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Support staffs and administration are backbone that help teachers teach

From the The State of Education in Utah Valley series

This is the 10th article in the series, “The State of Education in Utah Valley.” All stories can be found here.

When Samuel K. Jarman was attending Provo High School more than three decades ago, he most likely had no idea that he would one day become the superintendent of Utah’s largest school district – Alpine School District.

“I started in 1986 at Provo High School as a drafting teacher,” Jarman said. He goes on to say the he believes he may be the only person that was a former PHS student, that went to college, got a teaching degree and came back to PHS as a faculty member. Eventually he went on to become principal at the school.

Jarman is like many other superintendents who were once school teachers doing what they loved before moving into administration.

Provo City School District’s Superintendent, Keith Rittel, taught for nearly a decade before moving into administration.

Rittel said he moved into administration because he saw the opportunity to have a greater influence on teaching and on the children.

“I wanted to be a better influence,” Rittel said.

Both men said they have also seen an ebb and flow of women moving more into the administrative tract rather than staying in the teaching track.

“We are seeing more females apply,” Rittel said. “Over the years you see more men apply. That’s evening out and last year (in the Provo District), it was close to an even split. It simply depends on the candidate pool.”

Rick Nielsen, Nebo District superintendent declined to be interviewed.

Administration is typically defined by those who are licensed and can have their licences taken away by the State Office of Education. Some support staff like administrative assistants, human resources, and other non-licensed employees may be considered administration, but that is defined through the local school district’s staffing and job descriptions, according to Mark Peterson, spokesman for the SOE.

Jarman concurs with Rittel’s experience.

“The leadership positions have been dominated by men,” Jarman said. “I don’t hire by gender but for the best candidate for the position. Men for the most part are the bread winner in the home and typically go into school administration.”

In the three Utah county districts the annual average salary of an administrator, according to SOE data, shows Alpine district at $80,185; Nebo at $76,972; and Provo at $89,700. A teacher’s average salary in the three districts includes Alpine at $46,935; Nebo at $48,529; and Provo at $46,481.

The administrative hiring in 2018 in Alpine was an even 17 men and 17 women. Jarman also noted that of the teachers hired right out of college 37 percent are from Brigham Young University and 24 percent Utah Valley University. The other hires are from outside.

The Brookings Report on teachers vs. administrative and support jobs concurs with local numbers. “There are as many non-teaching adults as there is teaching in U.S. public schools,” the report said.

Brookings notes that nationally, there is one full-time teacher per 16 students; in Utah there is one for every 18.

In order for those administrators to function and for any school to function, it takes a big support staff. Lana Hiskey, Nebo district spokeswoman, said in their district, hundreds of non-licensed workers such as nutrition specialists, librarians and custodians are needed to support the schools in the education process.

“Many work for Nebo School District because of the wonderful working conditions and benefits,” Hiskey said. “The work is also consistent. Another positive is that they have an association that meets with the district each month to keep their voice heard. Nebo’s staff typically gets the same pay raises as (other) educators.”

Support staffs in any district include jobs such as adult custodians, librarians, counselors, psychologists and children nutritionists.

Danny Lundell is a high school counselor in the Nebo District and as such is considered support staff. He said he loves his job and is staying put and not because of the wages.

“I love my job and the people I work with and the community,” Lundell said.

Lundell said the pay has gotten better in recent years, but he also looks at the other benefits that keep him in place.

“I look at my retirement benefits, healthcare insurance and I know I have it good,” Lundell said. “I’m super happy with my benefits.”

If there is any shocker over the years while Lundell has been a counselor, it wouldn’t be the lack of pay, but the attitudes of the parents.

“The biggest surprise (as a counselor) is the lack of parent involvement,” Lundell said. “It’s a small minority of parents who are involved.”

Lundell said he is surprised parents aren’t taking more of an active role in their children’s education and that is why he also says he needs to stay in school counseling.

Michelle Stephenson has been in the teaching profession for 25 years. She started teaching second grade in Mona in the Juab School District. She became a literacy specialist and has been a principal for the past nine years.

“This is a good fit,” Stephenson said. “I have the best of both worlds.”

Stephenson currently serves as the principal at Freedom Elementary School in Highland.

Mindy Spencer assists Stephenson and is the administrative secretary at Freedom Elementary School. Spencer said she became involved with the school when her twins started going to school.

“I started volunteering and I worked myself into a contract for eight years at another school and then eight years here,” Spencer said. “I love how positive everyone is here.”

Spencer said she loves her job for the people, not the money.

“It’s a totally different feel working here,” Spencer said. “I like to have fun and I enjoy coming here.”

Alpine School District spokesman, David Stephenson, said schools are filled with support staff who make the average day of education function.

“Each of our elementary schools have a principal. The larger schools also have an assistant principal. Many of the schools have an instructional coach and/or intern coordinator in conjunction with our internship programs with BYU and UVU,” Stephenson said. “Each school has a lead secretary and one or two office assistants (depending on student enrollment). Of course, each school has a custodian, and librarian. The custodian has a budget to hire additional custodians who are often referred to as sweepers.”

Based on enrollment in specific grade levels, as well as other specific needs, schools in the Alpine District have a budget to hire classroom aides.

“There is also a need in each elementary school to allocate a budget for recess duty aides,” Stephenson said. “School nurses are assigned to a few schools based on enrollment.”

Jarman said counselors are rare at Alpine elementary schools, but they are becoming more common thanks to recent legislature.

“Alpine has not traditionally had counselors at the elementary school level,” Jarman said. “Through a state grant, (provided in) HB223 passed there are more counselors at the elementary school level. Starting this year, we have one for every two schools for the highest risk schools we have.”

Alpine’s secondary schools have a counseling department of at least three counselors and more, depending upon enrollment numbers. Secondary schools have additional assistant principals because of higher enrollment numbers.

Additional secretaries are hired in secondary schools for financial transaction and tracking (registrars and financial secretaries). Because of enrollment and size of buildings, secondary schools also have additional contract custodians.

“Although we don’t track specifically the difference between support staff and teacher longevity, we do have many long term support staff that are instrumental in providing a safe and productive environment for the students in Alpine School District,” Stephenson added.

Stephenson said Alpine district doesn’t have data to explain why there is discrepancy between the number of males/females who go into administration because gender discrimination is a violation of hiring policies.

“Alpine School District hires individuals based on their skill set and proper licensing and certification and their ability to complete the essential functions of the position,” Stephenson said.

According to Peterson, data is not kept on the longevity of support staffs because the state does not charge them to track unlicensed employees. Peterson said if that is done, it is by the individual districts. He did note that school nurses are tract by the Utah Department of Health.

Alpine has 80,000 students with roughly 3,500 teachers, 720 teachers have been hired just this year, and 4,500 support staff according to Jarman. He also noted that in this area schools also benefit from volunteerism of people.

“Volunteers read with kids, put on plays etc.” Jarman said. “They are a key to our success.”

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