Friday’s first”Office Hours with the Superintendent” at Hugo Coffee, was a huge success. Approximately 10 people showed up to spend an hour with Park City School District Superintendent Dr. Ember Conley. It was a very informal gathering where people took turns asking questions and providing input. The major topics discussed included:
- A citizen wanted to know how the district was handling dyslexia. The discussion turned into how hard it is to diagnose. It sounds like a family may be donating money to help our schools with the problem but nothing has been formally announced yet.
- Dr Conley stressed that the district’s budget, and therefore plans, are fluid. They are using the best current information to make decisions but are changing course when necessary.
- Dr Conley said “If I have a pot of money and I can hire one teacher or two aides, I’d hire the teacher.” She said she knew this isn’t always a popular stance but it is how she feels.
- The school district isn’t projecting high growth in the number of students in the near future.
- The school board will start talking about Master Plan again during Tuesday’s all day retreat.
- The school board’s retreat is open to the public and starts at 9AM on Tuesday, March 15.
- The district has estimated there are at least $500,000 in repairs needed for TMJH. One of the biggest issues is corroded pipes.
- Everyone likes idea of 9th grade going back into the high school. Dr Conley cited the students survey and said it had lots of funny comments but also supported bringing 9th graders back into
- A citizen brought up the question of “why not using professionals to teach reading?”. Dr. Conley responded with part of her approach to achieving better reading:
- Build capacity with teachers including differentiated learning.
- She provided an example where a teacher used technology where the teacher can stop quizzes if a large percentage of kids do poorly on a question and provide more instruction at that point.
- She cited a concept called Double Dose where during the first 30-45 minutes of school, kids are grouped by ability. So, a Kindergartener may be with 2nd graders in a certain subject. It provides more focused learning in areas where either students need additional instruction or like the subject. She also cited this is where PE teachers and arts teachers may teach reading in different ways than are traditionally taught (i.e. perhaps learning reading through dance). She said Parley’s Park had successfully done this process.
- Starting 2016-2017 all schools will do this “All hands on deck” concept.
- A citizen asked “What’s the program/strategy for kids who can’t read at all?”
- Dr Conley said all Reading Specialists will have master degrees. The citizen, who had been a teacher, and appeared to have a Master’s Degree in Reading responded that the current job description is not good enough for the Reading Specialist. Dr Conley said all the reading Specialist had been hired but that a job description can never describe everything a person will actually need to do. The citizen also pointed out that teachers have not been trained in intervention. She questioned whether the teachers were ready for this change in a few months. She suggested waiting a year.
- Dr Conley also said teachers should be able to handle 16 kids without an aide. If not, there was a problem.
- Dr Conley said that she has not had a teacher come to her with a complaint about this that could not be rectified.
- “Office Hours” closed with a discussion of a legislative change where $800K of our district’s money will be going to charter schools. Dr Conley stated that they are looking at how they can move money around to account for this change.
Overall, it was some of the best time I’ve spent with members of our school system. Office Hours provides an intimate setting where you not only get answers to questions but you also get to talk face to face. I’m a huge proponent of social media and the ability to discuss topics asynchronously and when it’s convenient. However, this meeting reminded me of the power of sitting down with those people you have questions of in person.
If you have any questions about our School District…. even if it is, “how does my kid get into Stanford?” you’re not going to get a better opportunity than this. I hope everyone takes an opportunity between now and the end of May (when this program is done) to sit down with the Superintendent.