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School District Unveils A View Of Itself

1,677 survey respondents offer polarized opinions on BCSD

BY ERIC VALENTINE

If you want to read shared opinions on your faith in the Blaine County School District, read the results of its recent survey.

If you want to read shared opinions on your lack of faith in the Blaine County School District, read the results of its recent survey.

With 1,677 respondents providing nearly 8,000 comments aggregated within a 410-page document that was made public last week, the so-called 2019 Community Survey is a lot to take in. What follows is a high-level overview, a variety of stakeholder reactions to the opinions, and what school board trustees see as the next step.

A Pro-Teacher, Otherwise-Polarized District

The bright spot for BCSD is that the vast majority of respondents—roughly three-fourths—are satisfied or more when it comes to the curriculum of the district, as well as the district overall. And when one deep dives the open-ended responses, numerous respondents praise the skill and dedication of the teachers.

But it’s clear from the questionnaire, as well as comments made at the Jan. 29 school board session regarding the survey, that people feel there are two districts in the Valley. One that serves north and south differently. One that serves higher-income and lower-income families differently. One that cares about the community and one that’s aloof to the concerns of teachers, parents and taxpayers.

One thing that’s clear—a lot of people have strong opinions about superintendent GwenCarol Holmes.

“Our superintendent is a polarizing figure,” said parent Will Gardenswartz at the Jan. 29 meeting. “She’s a smart cookie and she clearly puts in the hours… When it comes to EQ (emotional intelligence), she suffers.”

Yet moments before, former Hailey Elementary School principal Thad Biggers expressed support for Holmes.

“Under Dr. Holmes’s leadership, our school district has made significant progress in improving the education for every child. She inherited many issues that were lingering long before her arrival,” Biggers said.

Not Random, But Anonymous

Part of the apparent polarization may be due to the format of the survey. It asked respondents on a scale of 1 to 5 how satisfied they were with the district, the superintendent, the curriculum and the facilities. It then asked respondents what each of those were doing well and then what each could do better. In other words, the results are supposed to be polarized to a degree.

Stakeholders also pointed out the survey’s lack of random selection—a fatal flaw, at least when it comes to be considered a “scientific” study. For instance, people with a particular agenda—pro or con—could rally the troops to take the survey and spell out their agenda through open comments. A scientific approach would send out the survey to, say, 1,000 randomly selected stakeholders across the Valley.

Trustees acknowledged the study’s constraints but noted that since it was anonymous, any fear of retribution for one’s answers did not play a factor and that comments were at least authentic and worth considering.

Also worth noting was the level of participation. Trustee Rob Clayton noted that three recent surveys in past years generated a total of 1,700 responses, roughly. The 2019 questionnaire took in 1,677 responses.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Among the 410 pages of mostly comments, some brazen and curt, others lengthy and articulate, certain themes emerged. They include:

Calendar—Stakeholders seek more input on school calendar changes and are not happy with the current one.

Substance Abuse—There is concern that substance abuse by Valley youth is not being addressed honestly and openly.

Vocational Education—Many respondents want to see the school district get behind more job skills training programs rather than double-down on trying to get every student into college.

SCHOOL DISTRICT SNAPSHOT

Percentage of respondents who reside in Hailey 60%

Number of respondents
who have a child in BCSD schools 938

Percentage of respondents
who are “satisfied” with BCSD 48%

Percentage of respondents
who are “very dissatisfied” with Superintendent 45%

Percentage of respondents
who are “satisfied” with BCSD curriculum 65%

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