OGDEN -- Candidates for mayor in Ogden have all said the city's education system is not helping attract new business because of low student scores, so Ogden School District, the United Way of Northern Utah and a consortium of agencies have formed a group to reverse the trend.
The idea, said United Way Director Robert Hunter, is to increase involvement between the schools and the communities they serve and boost parental involvement. Organizers hope to raise academic achievement, improve graduation rates and increase college placement.
The Ogden district already uses its schools as community hubs, based on a philosophy going back decades that elementary schools, especially, should be smaller and neighborhood-oriented.
Hunter said this effort is far wider than that.
"It's different, because we've worked for a year and a half, and we've put together 20 specific items that we're going to work on," he said.
"It creates a parent university. It creates community schools. We've had an experimental community school in Mound Fort Junior High, and the principal there is in Mount Ogden Junior High now, and he's putting one in there too.
"So these 20 specific strategies or action items, I think this is how it's going to work -- with more intensity and more emphasis than simply community involvement at this point."
The group, Ogden United, is chaired by former Weber County Attorney Reed Richards. Groups involved in it include the Ogden School Board, Ogden City Council, Weber State University, Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce, Utah Department of Workforce Services, Ogden/Weber Convention and Visitors Bureau and Jeanne Hall of the Alan and Jeanne Hall Foundation.
Hunter said he has seen examples of the results of outside intervention already.
"In our own community, the LDS Church has started some pilot programs. They've got one in Riverdale school and one in Taylor Canyon school," he said.
In Taylor Canyon, the church contacted the local LDS Stake president, "who called 30 to 40 people to be reading volunteers. The whole notion is we bring kids up to third-grade level at the end of third grade; statistics show if we bring them up to third-grade level by third, they do so much better later on.
"So I think the secret is this many entities are committed to this, and these goals are to be met by the year 2020, so that's what we're doing beyond what's already being done."
The 20 goals include such tasks as increasing accelerated learning programs; setting out teaching tracks for students based on their ability instead of age; increasing professional development for teachers; making parents accountable for attendance; and implementing either school uniforms or a strict dress code.
While 48 percent of Ogden students are Hispanic, the list of agencies in Ogden United doesn't include any Hispanic groups. Hunter said that doesn't mean they're excluded.
"As we go through this, the Hispanic community is very, very much in our minds," he said. "How do we deal with language barriers and like that? And that's something we want to deal with in the individual schools, and through parent groups and teacher groups. They are going to be in individual focus groups.
"But we definitely have the Hispanic population in mind."
Noel Zabriskie, who on Wednesday announced his retirement as superintendent of Ogden City Schools, said the community schools idea was more of a framework than a specific program that would be implemented school-by-school.
"It's more of an idea to use resources to meet the needs of this particular community," he said. "We want to educate all the players and others in the community on how they can help young people graduate, get training and be successful in life."
Eventually, he said, the concept will cover all schools in the community.
One goal is to establish a "parent university," which Hunter said has already been tried in Boston, as a place where parents can learn how to help their children succeed.
A release from Ogden United says the Boston parent university was done in cooperation with Harvard University.
"The classes are taught by community members, university faculty and professionals," it says. "The curriculum includes how to raise a child, how to help your child excel in school, how to deal with problems in behavior and motivation, etc."