Survey highlights problems with the Park City School District
A group of Park City parents, teachers, and others created a survey on how our schools are doing. They sent the survey to teachers and other staff members on Valentine’s day. Approximately 80 employees responded to the survey and gave feedback on our school district. You can view the survey results here.
There appears to be some bristling within the district. School Board member Andrew Caplan called the survey a “hit-job.” My opinion is that any type of information is good information. You just have to take it for what it’s worth. Therefore, I wanted to share the survey results with our community.
If you read the survey in detail, you’ll find a variety of opinions. Educators seem to love their principals. People aren’t as happy with the School Board and Superintendent. Although, you’ll find supportive comments on both in the survey.
To understand more about the survey, I wanted to ask the creators of the survey questions. The survey was created anonymously, but Park City parent Kris Choi was part of the team that created it, and she was willing to talk about it. I wanted to know why she came forward and what she feels is important. She was kind enough to spend time answering a few questions:
Q: Why was the PCSD Stakeholder survey created?
Because we knew there was a need for this survey. Our kids’ teachers have been leaving our district for better jobs or to take early retirement in the last two years or so and we wanted to know what factors were contributing to the movement.
We scrubbed the district and Boarddocs websites for survey documents. We could not find even one from PCSD, going as far back as the early 2000’s, related to workplace satisfaction.
The only way to learn about how our employees are doing is to ask them directly.
Q: Some people are a little suspicious when something is anonymous. Why the anonymity?
Just as employees are operating in fear of retribution from district leaders, external stakeholders have the same fear. Many of us have experienced it personally already. We felt anonymity all around was the only way to get honest feedback and input. And that was actually confirmed by a teacher who wanted to know more about PCSD Stakeholders because said teacher was highly concerned that the survey was affiliated with the district.
Q: Why did you, Kris, decide to put your name on the survey?
Because the community needs to know that there are real people who care. So, for those in our community who have questions about the survey, I’m here as a representative of our group for any questions you might have.
Q: What types of people helped create the survey?
PCSD parents, volunteers, teachers, and professional advisors.
Q: Some people believe that the answers aren’t reflective of the entire school district. Why should the public trust the survey?
The survey was issued with the sole intention of creating a platform for honest, unfiltered, feedback from district employees. We expected a higher response rate than 18%, but given the fact that PCSD leadership discouraged participation at a 100% rate, that’s 18% of employees who still felt the need to offer honest, unfiltered feedback. The responses are indicative of serious issues that logically can be extrapolated to apply to the wider base.
Q: You stated that you received an 18% response rate. Is that good?
No. It’s a pretty low response rate. We aimed for and expected higher. However, about 28% or so employees could not even be queried due to incorrect or non-existent email addresses and bounce-backs.
What is more revealing than the response rate is that even AFTER district leaders discouraged employees from participating, 18% still completed the survey.
Q: Does the survey have a sound methodology?
Yes. We sussed out an appropriate vendor, built out and refined questions relevant to PCSD, employees, leadership, and the Park City community at large when it comes to employee workplace satisfaction. The survey was not constructed in a vacuum; rather, it was constructed with a good cross-section of stakeholders.
Q: There appear to be comments under each survey question. Are those all the comments received with the survey or were certain comments cherry-picked?
In order to maintain the integrity of the survey results, we had to include all comments as written. If we had deleted even one comment, that would have left room to question the integrity of the survey.
Q: School Board member Andrew Caplan described the survey as a “hit job” in a recent meeting. How do you respond to that?
That seems in keeping with Mr. Caplan’s character and conduct. This is not an audition for ‘The Godfather’ or ‘The Sopranos’— it’s a public school district. The board may not like the results of this survey, but these ratings and comments are from the very employees they are bound by public duty to support and protect.
Q: The survey showed both favorable and unfavorable things going on in the district. What did you consider the most positive and least positive results?
The most positive takeaways, as you see in the Summary and Conclusions of the results document, are:
- Most participants find their jobs challenging and meaningful
- They seem to have the base-level tools at their disposal (but also expressed that those tools could be and should be improved)
- They believe their skills are put to good use
- They have mutually respectful relationships with co-workers and immediate supervisors
- They are satisfied with the benefits PCSD offers
- PCSD principals, students, and parents received favorable ratings in most areas covered
The least positive takeaways are:
- Most participants either didn’t recall a comprehensive employee satisfaction survey the whole time they’ve been employed with PCSD. Sure, there have been smaller surveys once in awhile, but nothing like this that took a deep dive.
- They are stressed out and do not feel reasonably compensated
- Their work-life balance is undesirable–they are likely to be taking work home and losing quality time with their families
- They do not have opportunities for growth and advancement
- Conflicts in the workplace are not addressed promptly and professionally
- District-wide communication is not timely and transparent
- Serious issues (bullying, hate speech, etc.) are not addressed quickly, fairly, and professionally
- PCSD employees do not feel valued by the Park City community
- PCSD employees and leadership are not on the same page
- Employees overwhelmingly rated their PCSD Board members and Superintendent poorly in every category
- PCSD’s organizational structure is top-heavy, with much greater need for additional support staff in classrooms and much less need for high paying district officers
Q: 91% of participants said their job is meaningful to them. Could you tell from the survey what contributes to that?
It appears from the responses that our employees actually enjoy the type of work they do. Teachers enjoy teaching and, with the exception of specific experiences, they enjoy their students, co-workers, principals, and parents.
Q: 94% think their job is stressful. What did they say about that?
They elaborated that employees are not treated equitably. They do not feel supported, appreciated, respected, recognized, and valued by the district office and Board. They feel that the district office, Board, and Superintendent are operating in a vacuum and are disconnected from the schools. Their workloads are higher than they can reasonably manage. Certain favored employees are picked to be involved in decisions, while the rest feel that they are intentionally left out. Teachers have less and less time to prepare their educational lessons for students. People aren’t on the same page. Students are misbehaving more often. Teachers feel handcuffed by changes at the state level, too.
No reasonable person can expect great education under these circumstances. When teachers burn out, students ultimately suffer the consequences.
Q: 74% of respondents disagreed that PCSD employees are on the same page. Could you discern why?
The results indicate there is an extreme disconnection between employees at individual campuses and the district office and Board. District communication, or lack thereof, seems to be a pain point that inhibits people from operating with the same understanding. Transparency seems to be another pain point. Common goals are not achievable without common messaging. Without common messaging, a system wherein everyone works toward common goals and understanding is simply not possible.
Q: On almost every question regarding the School Board, more than 50% of respondents felt the board isn’t doing a good job. To what do you attribute that?
The results from this survey indicate that Board members are out of touch and keep PCSD employees at arm’s length. Some don’t even know who the Board members are or what they do. That’s a problem. It doesn’t help that the demeanor of the Board when it does engage seems very adversarial toward teachers and acquiescent to the Superintendent, the person they are supposed to regularly evaluate for effectiveness in her job. Checks and balances in a system cannot exist without understanding what that system needs. That isn’t lost on the employees.
Q: Looking at the responses to questions about the Superintendent, there were both positive and negative comments. Did anything surprise you with the responses regarding the Superintendent?
We were surprised by the sheer volume, depth, and detail of employee comments about the Superintendent, but not by the content. One point of note about the Superintendent that was not already known or suspected, is that she requires that she interview all job candidates herself. Given that the results indicate that she still has not met all our current educators, therefore cannot understand their needs, it is striking that she would insert herself in all school-level interviews. This practice significantly slows the hiring process and shows that she does not trust school principals to manage their own hiring process. The results also indicate that she selectively micro-manages and that she has developed cronyistic relationships.
There were positive comments that were surprisingly quick, generic, and without elaboration.
Q: Generally people seem to like their Principals. However, there are major concerns above that position. Could you tell what the principals are doing right that higher levels of the organization aren’t?
While there are concerns about specific principals, generally speaking, principals know more about how their schools are run and have closer relationships with teachers. They tend to try harder to work with and accommodate their teachers. There was some disappointment expressed that principals aren’t being allowed to do the jobs they were hired to do. That speaks to the higher powers not appropriately delegating work and failing to trust the principals.
Q: What did the survey have to say about interactions with students?
Based on the survey results, teachers generally enjoy their PCSD students. However, there seems to be a distinct uptick of distractive or, at times, aggressive behavior in students causing more concern for the safety of all students, whether in classrooms or hallways. The results also indicate there is room for improvement in the area of students respecting their teachers.
Q: One of the questions was “What could be improved to make your job better?” What were some of the key themes of the responses?
- smaller class sizes
- higher pay for teachers
- equitability for all stakeholders
- competence and integrity in leadership in the district office and on the Board
- additional school level employees and volunteers to support teachers
- fewer high-paying district officers
- more time to plan lessons
- to make students and teachers the number one priority that drives decisions
- cohesiveness between elementary, middle, junior, and high school education
- to support teachers, from mental health to legislative help
- to support students, from mental health to equitable education
- honesty, openness, transparency
Q: One of the consistent things I saw across the survey is that respondents feel our district is top-heavy, but I didn’t see many proposed solutions. Were you able to draw any conclusions on this?
The results indicate that rather than perpetuate a top-heavy organization that doesn’t work as intended, PCSD needs to move toward a greater number of support staff at the individual campuses.
The more qualified boots on the ground there are to assist the teachers, the more attention to educating our students there will be.
Q: How do you think our school system is doing?
Poorly, at best. The survey results reveal that the PCSD foundation is not as stable as it is advertised to be. The current foundation is more like a house of cards.
Think about that for a minute. We have had good educators vacating their positions for years now, few substitutes (who seem to have been intentionally alienated) to fill those gaps, and a flawed acquisition process, according to these results. Based on this survey, I would say that the very foundation is shifting away from, rather than toward, a collaborative goal to provide our students and teachers excellence in education.
We did not have expectations about this survey. We just wanted to provide the platform. It could have revealed that employees are happy and healthy with kudos to all levels of leadership and stakeholders. We would have published it either way. We were pretty shocked by the results. With a high number of detailed comments, it is clear that too many of our educators are looking for other employment outside PCSD, in large part due to substandard leadership and decisions. The details should not be ignored.
Many of us came to Park City to raise our children in an excellent education system. The ratings and comments convey a much different picture. There are much better systems across the country and better systems in the state of Utah (which is not a state that invests a great deal in education). The Park City School District is only among the top 30% of districts in Utah (Public School Review, look at the graphs).
You read this survey and know we can do better.
Q: If people want to ask you questions about the survey, are you willing to speak with them?
Of course. You can reach me at .
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Education, especially education in a smaller community like ours, works best when everyone is involved, engaged, congruent, and on the same page. Our community should be appreciative of one another, humble, honest, transparent, and willing to work toward a common goal through common messaging. Therefore, we (PCSD Stakeholders) offer a standing invitation for constructive feedback or dialogue from all other stakeholders for the sake of achieving excellence in education.
Hi, I’m Josh Mann. I created the Park Rag in 2012 to tell stories like these. This year, I am running for Park City School Board. I believe that through open communication, we can build a stronger community. Thanks for stopping by.
You know it’s bad when this kind of news is totally overshadowed by this:
Time for mass resignations… for what, the 2nd or 3rd time now? We’ll see if anything actually happens.
I would really like the survey sent out again. I think that you would get a much higher response now that employees know who it’s from and that it’s truly anonymous!
I agree. A lot of people I work with didn’t fill it out at first BECAUSE they thought it was from the district and they didn’t trust it was anonymous. Then they were scared by the email from the district disavowing it and subtext that we shouldn’t fill it out. It’s just a fucked up culture of fear all the way around.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and encourage all employees to write their feedback about PCSD here! The survey’s done, but you can still write here.
I was intrigued by this group and interested in the survey results although I was not sent a link to the survey in my school email. Then I noticed the rude and unkind comments by a person quoted in the article towards a teacher who didn’t agree with her opinion. That makes me think that the perspectives are skewed and I lost trust in the group and the survey.
I have read the facebook thread you’re referring to, and there was nothing rude said.
Look, the only really constructive response to the survey, if you don’t think it’s legitimate, is to… wait for it…
DO YOUR OWN
Find a trustworthy third party (PCSD has used Lighthouse in the past and they are competent and professional) to administer the survey so the district itself can’t be accused of cooking the books. Instruct them to provide the full results to both the board/super and the public.
Boom, you’ve got an accurate picture of what staff and teachers think.
If you’re not willing to do that, then you will just have to accept the survey information as it is and try to do something constructive with it (ie, fire a few admins, hire more support staff).
Of course, it may be that the administration doesn’t actually want to know. They’ve spent plenty of time shooting the messenger and refusing to talk to the press already, after all. Oh, and that whole failing to follow the law and report child abuse…
I spoke to my school board representative, Wendy Crossland, back on February 1. I told her at that time that the district should contract an outside entity to distribute a survey to PCSD employees. I told her that employees don’t trust the district administration at all and that very few people would be honest in a survey sent out by the district. Our educators are terrified of reprisal and retaliation, and for good reason. The administration has repeated acted against individuals who don’t toe the party line, who envision a different way to approach education, who dissent in ANY way, or even who just call attention to actual problems. When I heard about this Stakeholders survey, I was so pleased that the board listened! Of course, it had nothing to do with the district, and the board and admin have done nothing but repudiate the survey and its creators. What a waste of an opportunity to listen.
Dear ‘Also a PCSD teacher,’
What are you referring to?
No one from the group who created the survey has spoken ill of a teacher to the best of my knowledge.
I do know that someone claims that the UEA and USBE were not involved, but that’s not true.
That’s all I’ve seen, so I’m curious what you’re referring to.
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