Lawmakers discuss role of teacher training in closing state's achievement gap

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18 2013 3:45 p.m. MDT

McKell Withers, superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District, spoke about the unique challenges of his district, where the majority of students belong to a racial minority and the percentage of white students at some schools is as low as 10 percent.

"It's awesome," Withers said. "The whole world is here in Salt Lake City."

Withers was asked whether it is difficult for his district to retain teachers, particularly with the pressures of programs like the new school grading system, which issues a letter grade to schools based on students' test scores.

He responded that teachers in urban, diverse schools are aware of the challenges in their classrooms, but the district tries to use data such as school grades to empower, not discourage, their efforts.

"We've learned over the years to use data, use it often, and to not use it as a weapon," Withers said.

Sarah Wright, a teacher at Salem Hills High School, also presented during the committee meeting. She was asked by Reid if she would feel prepared from her college training to be hired by highly diverse districts such as Salt Lake or Ogden.

Wright replied that she would not feel completely prepared, having little experience working with diversity at the teaching level, but would feel better about joining one of those districts if she knew there would be built-in time and support for her to learn from and work with more experienced educators.

"Preparation needs to happen in college, but I feel like it would be most effective if it was happening heavily during the first year of teaching," she said.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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