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Wasatch School District Communications Director Focuses On Safety, Literacy And Teacher Compensation

Wasatch County School District

The Wasatch School District has hired a new Communications Director. She talks with KPCW about the top three priorities of Safety, Teacher Pay and Literacy.  Carolyn Murray has this:

Communications Director Kirsta Albert started her new job with the Wasatch School District on July 2nd.  The district has 8 schools and about 7000 students enrolled for the fall of 2018. Albert has a background in journalism, marketing and communications with non-profits and children’s programs.

“My background is in newspaper reporting.  I was at the Park Record in the late 90’s and transitioned into non-profit marketing and was at the Kimball through the Olympics. I was at the former Performing Arts Foundation until 2012. I took over marketing at Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum which was my first foray into in school programming through the iSEE program. (Informal Science Education Enhancement) Then to the Summit Group communications for three years where I worked with the state board of education in their special education initiatives within math outcomes for middle school students. From there, that led me to Wasatch County School District.”

School Resource Officers, secure entryways and an additional Psychologist will be in place by the start of school in August.

“Those school resource officers are being hired presently.  It’s a very specific type of individual who is a good fit. The other priority within safety, is ensuring that entryways are secure and that is happening at each of the building entryways over the summer. And the final piece of it is of course, mental health.  And they have hired another full time body to ensure there’s as much availability for resources for the students as possible because mental health is equally a part that is recognized as school safety.”

Albert says the district has never started a school year with teacher vacancies. They’ve raised teacher starting salaries to $41,000.00 a year.

“We are one of few districts that offers full benefits paid for…over the past two years overall base pay has grown by 11 percent for educators in the district.”

Albert says the district has an overarching focus to improve literacy by assuring preparedness for first grade and achieving 3rd grade reading proficiency. Parents aren’t required to enroll kids in full time kindergarten but it will be offered throughout the Wasatch School District this year.

“If you’re not at grade level literacy by third grade, it becomes increasingly challenging to get on grade level as you become older. When you talk about math, when you talk about science, if you do not have the core tenets of literacy, then even if you have a proficiency in math, science, language arts…that’s not going to manifest if literacy is not already achieved. It is probably the strongest foundation for a community that has such diversity. You know we have some English Language Learners…it’s about a 20 percent population of the overall school population.  We want to make sure all students have access to the tools that they need to succeed and within that, literacy is number one.”

Each of the five elementary schools has Dual Language Immersion starting in Kindergarten. The Summer School Program also helps kids stay on track for academic performance.

23kirsta9         :37           “..the summer..”

        “It’s demonstrated that English Language Learners who participate in dual language immersion programs outperform their peers, who are not in those programs, in English or other subjects. So having the dedication and commitment to having the dual immersion in all five of the elementary schools, is one of the ways it’s addressed.  Another one is the summer school program and within that there are special programs for students with disabilities as well as dual immersion and stem.  This is an opportunity for those kids to not experience the brain drain that happens over the summer.”

With the population growth of Wasatch County, Albert says that the School Board is continuously considering the impacts on students. She says they’re using existing facilities to accommodate the overflow.

  “They were able to do that at the high school campus by moving into the adjacent building that was the middle school and use that for certain programs that allow for an almost 1000 student overflow.  That’s the building next to the Aquatics Center.”    

They’ve extended the student lunch program until August 9th in order to provide nutritional support for any student to access from 12 to 1 Monday through Thursday at Heber Valley Elementary School. Pre-School is now offered in each of the Elementary Schools in the Wasatch School District. August 22nd is the first day for grades one through nine. 10th through 12th grades begin August 23 and Kindergarten starts August 30.