Salt Lake School District principals and teachers are feeling overloaded, so "we feel the need to be more sensitive on how much we are trying to do and how fast," Superintendent John W. Bennion told the Salt Lake Board of Education Tuesday.
The overload issue was a common theme emerging in the district's meetings with teacher representatives and principals in recent weeks, Bennion said. Other underlying themes were the need for more teacher involvement so they don't feel they're caught in a situation where decisions come only from the top down and for better communication among levels of the district, Bennion said.The discussions were initiated after, in late February, the Salt Lake Teachers Association complained in a letter to the board that the teachers had too little participation in education decisions, there was a lack of trust in the district's central administration and there was too little direct and open communication. The teachers voted "no confidence" in Bennion.
So far district administrators have had two meetings with teacher representatives and principals, and a third will be scheduled in mid-April.
Saying he feels badly about the method in which the issues were raised, Bennion also said he thinks the meetings have resulted in good, productive discussions. It will take time, however, to work out the problems, he said.
To help alleviate the teachers' and principals' feeling of being overloaded, the superintendent said the volume and rate of change will be monitored. The district plans to study the school calendar so new curriculum projects aren't added at already busy times.
Bennion also said the district, teachers and principals need to take the time to work together in implementing changes so everyone feels what he called "ownership" of them.
"What has happened is that a lot has gotten interpreted as coming down from the top, with the principal being messenger and taking it to the teachers," he explained.
He said those in the schools also believe they "need to adapt district programs to their individual circumstances, which vary considerably from school to school." And they also want flexibility with deadlines.
"There are some pretty strong feelings that a lot of what is being expected is uniformity on all fronts," he said.
However, that isn't what is expected, Bennion said. "It is not our intent to have people feel everyone does the same thing on the same timetable, but that's what people have been feeling."
He suggested that perhaps the main theme of the district's administrative workshop this summer should be teaching skills on "how to get people productively and actively involved in the change process."
The superintendent also said that the district needs to more effectively communicate what is happening during decision making, so that any modifications resulting from feedback will be highlighted. Expectations should also be described as recommendations, not mandates, he said.
In discussing Bennion's comments, the board decided to review its five-year goals, which set some overall educational objectives. Members also agreed to invite comments from the schools' community councils on the district goals.