Friends and Neighbors –
I have debated writing for quite a while. I feel like I need to address some misconceptions that are being circulated about Alpine School District, as well as about me and other district leaders. I appreciate those of you who have come to me with specific concerns. Those of you who have taken the time to research issues for yourselves have uncovered the truth beneath the rhetoric, I thank you for your effort.
I am disturbed about the recent creation of a website called “Save ASD.” I want you to know that Alpine School District does not need to be “saved.” Great things are happening in the district. As with any organization, we always have room for improvement; and all 6,300 employees are constantly looking for ways to make those improvements.
In 2005, the School Board adopted the mission statement “Educating All Students to Ensure the Future of our Democracy.” This idea is taken from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, who believed that all children, regardless of social class, deserve a basic education. He and other Founding Fathers wished to steer away from the meritocracy that had extended them certain privileges based on social class and extend those privileges—such as education—to all citizens. Many believe that basic education is provided for in the Constitution, but it is not. It is something that Jefferson fought tirelessly for.
Over the last several months, some have expressed concern to the Board about the use of the word “Democracy” in the mission statement. In this context, the word is referring to “Our American Way of Life,” the same way it is used regularly by religious and political leaders. The fact that you were allowed to vote for a school board to represent you is evidence of democracy. The fact that the “saveasd” website could be created and opinions can be expressed freely and without legal repercussions is evidence of democracy. Our use of the term was not intended to be any kind of political statement or reference to any political party. The mission statement is referring to the fact that we all have a stewardship to prepare our students to become contributing citizens in our society.
The ASD Board of Education certainly understands and respects the fact that we have a Republican form of government. When concerns over the term were expressed, the Board needed to know if this was a small group of people expressing concern or if this is something that is felt district-wide, by the majority of the 100,000 homes within its boundaries. In response, the Board has spent the last few months visiting all 74 schools, as well as faculties, administrators, PTAs, School Community Councils, District Community Council, and clusters. They are currently synthesizing the data received so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not the mission statement should be changed. As employees of the district, we will support the decision of the Board.
Another concern that has been expressed is in regard to the “Moral Dimensions of Teaching.” Several years ago, all five districts along the Wasatch Front entered into a partnership with BYU called the CITES partnership. The districts included are Alpine, Provo, Nebo, Wasatch, and Jordan. Collectively, the partnership adopted what is called the “Moral Dimensions of Teaching,” and with it, four core values. In recent months some have raised concern about those values. Since last fall, the administrators and Board of Education have changed the way those values are worded because of those concerns. One of the words that was concerning to people was the word “enculturating.” Enculturation is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group.” This definition, for some reason, is threatening to some people. Therefore, the word “enculturating” is no longer used in the value statements of Alpine School District. It is not printed on anything, it is not on the website, and it is no longer hanging in any school or in any district office.
The four values of ASD are:
- To prepare students to become contributing citizens in our Democracy—our American way of life. As district employees, we have the opportunity to work with students from kindergarten to twelfth grade. After that, they will go a in variety of different directions. Some will go to college, some will immediately enter the work force, some will get married, some will go into the army, etc. They need to be prepared to be contributing citizens, no matter what they choose to do after they graduate.
- To establish an effective and caring environment (formerly referred to as a “Nurturing Pedagogy”). Recently, a patron of Alpine school district addressed the Board of Education and told them that the role of the Board and the employees of the district was to “stick to academics” and to leave the nurturing and caring to the parents. We in ASD disagree. Should the custodian not care about providing a safe and clean environment for students to learn? Should a nutritional services employee not care about having a healthy and nutritious lunch for students to eat so that they have energy to learn? Should a secretary not care when a students falls and is injured on the playground or when they come in to the office because they are not feeling well? Should a teacher not care if a student is struggling in class? Should a principal not care about communicating with parents as well as the overall academic success of the school? These are just a few examples of the ways that employees have and will continue to care and nurture the students of the district. As a parent of 6 children myself, I want to feel that I am sending my children to a place every day where people care about their success. The way teachers and administrators care and nurture my children, is important and does not take away from my role as their mother.
- Stewardship. We all have a role to play in the education of our students, and we each should take ownership of that role. The role of a teacher is different from the role of a custodian. The role of a Board member is different from the role of a principal. The role of a parent is different from the role of a secretary. Our children’s success takes all of us working together and having stewardship, whatever our role may be.
- Access to knowledge for ALL students. We have programs that address the needs of all students no matter what their ability or background. We have students that are struggling, students that are advanced, students that have physical or emotional disabilities, and students whose primary language is not English. Every one of these students must have the opportunity to advance and make daily improvements – no matter what the circumstance.
I would hope that any educational institution would have these same basic values: to prepare students for their future, to care about their success, to have stewardship in each person’s role in that success, and to provide a quality education for all of their students, no matter what their ability or background.
The Educator who originally wrote about the “Moral Dimensions of Teaching” was named John Goodlad. Unfortunately, some people are jumping to the conclusion that because several years ago BYU as well as the 5 districts in the CITES partnership adopted the “Moral Dimensions of Teaching” that somehow we “bow down” to everything John Goodlad has ever said or everything he believes. This could not be further from the truth. We do, however, stand behind the values of our district, values that were originally founded based on the works of John Goodlad.
As you will recall, President Monson, leader of the LDS church quoted Horace Mann in the Women’s Session of General Conference a few weeks ago. Does that mean that the LDS church “bows down” to everything Horace Mann has ever said, or that President Monson somehow believes everything that Horace Mann believes? Certainly not. Yet somehow many are making that same conclusion about Alpine School District. (Ironically, President Monson was giving a talk about being careful not to judge other people).
There are people that are spending a lot of time and energy doing research and sending out information about John Goodlad – implying that it is therefore information about Alpine School District. Again – that is not correct. The School Board and employees of the district have done research and studied the works of hundreds of educators over the years and will continue to do so. We believe in continuous improvement – always looking for ways to make things even better. For example, recently, we have adopted the use of Professional Learning Communities and collaboration focusing on the “four essential questions”. (What do we want students to learn? How will we know if they have learned it? What do we do if they didn’t understand? What about a student that understands and is ready to move on?) This originally came from the works of Educators Bob Eaker and Rick DuFour. We do not know what their religious beliefs are or how they voted in the last election. We do, however, stand behind the principles of PLC’s that have been adopted by ASD.
Another point of contention against Alpine School District is the use of the Investigations Math Program. After a few years with the program, the district changed and adopted a balanced approach, where teachers and parents at each school could decide which math program was best for their students. All schools in Alpine School District follow the state core curriculum for math, but schools have the right to choose their preferred methods for teaching. As a result, no school or teacher uses one exclusive method, but rather a balanced approach using different methods. Many parents, teachers, and administrators have chosen to include Investigations Math as one type of approach used. That decision is a school-based decision. But ironically, those people who were upset several years ago when Alpine School District “forced” teachers to use Investigations are now upset that the Board of Education is giving parents, teachers, and administrators the ability to choose which program is best for their students. This group would like our Board to “force” schools to use the program that they choose. How can it be wrong for the Board to choose for people several years ago, but now be wrong for schools to be able to choose for themselves?
I respect the fact that people have the right to choose what education is best for their own children. I have many friends, family members, and neighbors that choose to home school their children, or send their children to private or charter schools. I respect that choice if that is what they feel is best for their children. I am not going to question, or start a website, or try to find fault with those decisions. The fact that we are able to make those kinds of choices for our own children is an example of Democracy.
It is important for all of us to ask questions and do research on our own to find out if things that are being sent to us or told to us are true. I respect people having different opinions about issues. It is unfortunate when people choose to attack the integrity of others or to embellish things to try and get attention.
In response to the recently created website “Save ASD” I ask: Who or what is it about Alpine School District that anyone needs to be saved from?
Is it the thousands of teachers? Those who spend countless hours outside of their contract time and money out of their own pockets preparing to help students achieve at their highest levels every day?
Is it the administrators? The people who take ownership in their department or school by focusing on student achievement and continuous improvement?
Is it the custodians? The people that arrive at work at 5-6 a.m. each day to make sure the schools are safe and ready for the students?
Is it the bus drivers? Those that focus on safely getting thousands of students to and from school each day?
Is it the secretaries, the nutritional service workers, the playground aides, the coaches, or advisors?
Is it the past, current, or future School Board Members? Those who work tirelessly day after day, beyond their regular jobs, seeking input from all areas of the district so that they can make the most informed decisions for our children?
Is it the mission statement that we need to be saved from? Is it the values and goals of the district? Is it John Goodlad? Is it the BYU partnership? Is it the school children themselves?
I invite and encourage anyone that has a concern about Alpine School District to visit any of our 74 schools or departments. Talk to any of the thousands of employees to find out exactly what we need to be saved from. I invite you to do your own research and find out for yourself what is going on in our schools. I invite you to stop spending time creating websites and writing and sending e-mails to each other, but instead join the hundreds of other parents who are actually volunteering in the schools serving the children every day. If you find something that concerns you, I invite you to talk to the teacher, principal, or others so that your concern can be addressed. Don’t just believe what you are reading from me or from anyone else. Find out for yourself. You live in a country that allows you to do that. Take advantage of that right! I am confident that if you take time to do your own research and make your own decision, you will find that Alpine School District is accomplishing great things. You will find the best and most dedicated employees that have the students’ best interest at heart.
I have had a few people make the comment to me recently that “this isn’t personal”. I want you to know that it is personal. It’s personal to all 6,300 employees, it’s personal to all 67,000 students, as well as to thousands of parents and patrons in our district.
I am proud to work with 6,300 other people in Alpine School District that get up every day and do their best to make a difference in the lives of our students.