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Board Meeting Report - September 19, 2023

The Board of Education of Salt Lake City School District (the Board) met twice on Tuesday, September 19, 2023. Once in the morning for their Annual Board Retreat, and again in the evening for their scheduled Board Meeting.

Annual Board Retreat

The Board schedules a Board Retreat annually to plan for the year ahead, to discuss concerns, and to strategize on how to achieve our most important objectives related to student achievement. It’s also a chance to take care of items that need to done, such as reviewing updates to the Board handbook (updates were made to comply with state law and to better define the Board’s role and responsibilities); reviewing parliamentary procedure, which helps Board members run efficient meetings; and reviewing the recommendations from last December’s legislative audit (the Board has taken action on all five recommendations from the audit); and planning topics for future study sessions, which are opportunities for the Board to take a deep dive into critical district issues. Below are a few other items that made up the bulk of the retreat agenda:

General Obligation Bonding Information

The Board is considering a bond for future high school campus needs. As part of the process to prepare for a possible bond election, the Board invited the district's financial advisor, Alex Buxton (Zions Bank), to present at Tuesday’s retreat. Mr. Buxton explained the requirements for setting a possible bond election and reviewed the timeline and deadlines that must be met. He advised the district and Board to determine early on how the money generated from a successful bond election would be used and to share that information broadly with district families and with Salt Lake City taxpayers. While the Board has not yet taken action on any possible bond election, it is important to them to make informed decisions at the appropriate time.

Potential Need for Survey Firm

Another important step in preparing for a bond election is for the district to potentially hire a professional survey firm to gauge public interest in possible rebuilds for Highland High School and West High School. Along with asking questions about these two campuses, for which the district worked with two architecture firms to complete feasibility studies last school year, the survey could also be used to gather public opinions on other important district issues. Board members agreed with his recommendation to begin the procurement process for finding and hiring a company to conduct a survey of Salt Lake City School district families and Salt Lake City residents. 

Long-Term District Vision

Superintendent Grant had an opportunity to share with the board her long-term vision for the district. We already have a great start with our district’s commitment to excellence and equity for every student, every classroom, every day. Our vision is that the Salt Lake City School District will be the flagship district in the state. Our district can lead the state in growth, equity, opportunity, and accomplishment.

To get there the district will IMPLEMENT current programs and BUILD new programs to serve students. We will implement:

  1. The Board’s reading initiative, which prioritizes reading on grade level by third grade
  2. Our social and emotional learning initiative, through the lens of the Dignity Index, a project that will launch this fall.
  3. The Board’s strategic plan for student achievement which outlines our goals for the next five years.

Reading is a Board and district priority and great work is already happening. Overall reading scores among third grade students in our district sit at the average for districts across the state and exceed those among districts with similar demographics. Utah set a goal for 70% of students to be reading on grade level by 2027. We’ve gone further and are striving for 80% of our students to read on grade level by 2027. In a recent report from the Utah State Board of Education, several Salt Lake City School District elementary schools stood out for the reading achievements of their students. We can achieve our reading goals by continuing to train our teachers in the Science of Reading and supporting them in delivering high-quality instruction, by supporting our school leaders in developing their own instructional leadership in reading, and by providing additional supports for struggling readers.

As we implement the initiatives mentioned above, we will focus on BUILDING new opportunities for students, including Career Pathways and College Pathways. We pioneered the very FIRST student apprenticeship program with Stadler Rail. This fall, we’re debuting the state’s SECOND apprenticeship program; and this is only the beginning. As the state’s flagship district, we are perfectly positioned to build these opportunities for our students, and the superintendent is committed to making this happen. As a district we are also focused on building innovative college pathways so that students can move smoothly and successfully on to local and national college and universities.

The Salt Lake City School District is committed to being the preferred place to work for Utah’s teachers and educational leaders.

Board Meeting

The Board held its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, September 19 at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is available to watch on the district’s YouTube channel.

Human Resource Services Staffing Update

The Executive Director of Human Resource Services, along with the Director for Certified Employees and the Director for Classified Employees, gave a report on the district’s hiring and staffing efforts. Their report included several updates.

  • The district currently has 3,757 employees.
  • For the 2023-24 school year, the district has hired 197 certified educators and 29 administrators.
  • Of the 197 new educators, 38 are first year teachers.

The team also reviewed their goals for the coming year and the steps they have taken to streamline and speed up the hiring process. Since August, the district has hired 164 new substitute teachers, bringing the total pool of substitutes to 465. Currently, the fill rates when substitute teachers are needed is between 80-90 percent. The report outlined that the hiring process for classified employees is year-round, with hundreds of positions filled each year. The biggest need for classified employees right now is for paraprofessionals to help in special education classrooms, which is a need in our district and throughout the state.

Repurposing of Rosslyn Heights Property

The district’s Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Isaac Astill reported on a recommended plan for the Rosslyn Heights building and the surrounding property. He said a company is currently removing asbestos from the old school, and demolition of the building should begin later this year. Once the property is clear, Mr. Astill said the recommendation is to build tennis courts and a soccer/lacrosse field on the site. The plan also includes a playground and pavilion, a small field house, restrooms, and a parking lot. He said using the property in this manner will help meet the needs of nearby Highland High School. The project is estimated to cost $6.4 million, and the district will gather feedback about the proposal from community members who live in the area surrounding the property.

map showing possible use of property

LETRS Update

The Board heard a report on our efforts to improve our students’ reading proficiency and to meet legislative and district goals. The state legislature has set a goal that by 2024 63% of K-3 students will be reading on grade level, and by 2027 that number will be 70%. In our district, the goal for 2027 is that 80% of students will be reading on grade level.

To work towards that, our teachers have received training over the last two years in “Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS)” training. All K-3 teachers have participated, as did many other teachers and even some school administrators. Just as the Salt Lake City School District expects all teachers to have an ESL endorsement in order to work in our district, we will also set the expectation that our K-3 teachers and our Special Education teachers will be trained in LETRS as a condition of employment.

Recently, we’ve seen great reading results at three Title I elementary schools: Newman Elementary, Parkview Elementary, and Rose Park Elementary. In these schools, there is a strong relationship between the school administrators and the school’s content specialist (reading coach), and the school administrator is heavily involved in teacher training. As the district works toward surpassing the state goals and meeting its own goals in K-3 reading, we will focus on taking the training from the past two years and using it to implementing strategies and guidance in the classroom to better support our students in reading.