On June 16, one day after Alpine School District’s new superintendent, Shane Farnsworth, was sworn in, Lehi Free Press interviewed him.
LFP: Growth is a factor that must be dealt with in the specific areas in the district. What strategies does the District have to address growth?
SF: Growth is a positive factor. Growth brings sunshine. Building schools has a significant positive influence in an area. It is a challenge we enjoy. Declining enrollment in areas of the District where schools need to be consolidated is not an easy or pleasant responsibility.
We have a team that has developed strategies to deal with growth and decline in all areas of the District. We discuss with city officials the patterns of development. We do a lot of groundwork to get the statistics right. We have a .01% margin of error in our calculations over time and have developed algorithms with developers to project growth needs. We are five years out with our projections. With secondary schools we are 8-10 years out. Cities are very transparent in growth projections. We meet every two months with city officials from Saratoga Springs, Lehi, and Eagle Mountain.
Our capital plan right now anticipates a bond within the next several years, possibly in 2022. The Board will consider the feasibility of the bond at that time.
We build schools with land for satellites [portable classrooms]. This provides us with elasticity in certain areas.
LFP: Some citizens criticize the size and elaborate nature of some of some of our high schools. How would you reply to this criticism?
SF: We have found that building quality schools with the best materials you can pays dividends down the road. Our schools are built to last 60-70 years. These buildings are also built to be used by the communities. We have found that using good materials saves the District a great deal of money on maintenance costs. We build with brick interior and exterior walls. It looks better and saves money over time.
LFP: As ASD becomes more and more diverse in terms of social-economic levels, ethnicity and educational attainment, how does the District plan to address these differences?
SF: We have created a new cabinet position: Administrator of Equity, Inclusion, and Student Support. There will be additional efforts to work with our minority population. Our goal is to see that all students achieve. The person hired is someone on our team who sees through this lens. We want all students to have the same levels of achievement and expectations. We are also attracting and retaining teachers of all different ethnic backgrounds and life experiences. We are initiating a new program called, “Grow your own teachers and counselors.” We are reaching out to paraprofessionals and aides who we feel show promise as teachers and are offering them scholarships to get their credentials. The universities are coming to our schools to provide classes. We are also looking out of state for potential teachers.
We have made our salaries competitive. In fact, Alpine teacher’s average salary is one of the highest in surrounding areas. Our base salaries are up to compete with other professions.
We are adding additional monies to incentivize teachers to stay in Alpine. We will contribute money to their retirement program at year 5, 10, and 15. We have also added mental health benefits to our medical benefits. We have also extended productivity to high school teachers. They can earn additional money by working longer days, and longer into the summer.
We have also improved the work climate of our teachers by adding collaboration time. We have seen collaboration improve teacher effectiveness. Peers hold their peers accountable for helping students attain state standards in core subjects.
LFP: Lehi patrons are concerned that land prices and the cost of building schools may force new ways of accommodating students. Could you discuss what the District is planning in light of these economic realities?
SF: We believe in building traditional schools. We believe in face-to-face learning with the addition of on-line school. We need to be innovative in building new schools. We can create options with industry-related input. We are looking at traditional and non-traditional programs. Students can specialize earlier. With our gifted and talented, dual immersion, and different pathways programs, housing students can be accommodated in different brick and mortar configurations.
With the opening of Viewpoint Junior High, the overcrowding at Willowcreek and Skyridge will be alleviated. The rebuild of Lehi High School is almost complete and provides a new building for the students who attend.
Dr. Farnsworth was hired as a teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School in 2000. He quickly became known for his professionalism, dedication to excellence, and eagerness to improve the schools wherever he was assigned. He came to education via the private sector, so he provides a depth of experience that is rare in educational circles.
Farnsworth has developed the trust and admiration of colleagues within the Alpine School District community.