KAYSVILLE -- One elementary school is taking an innovative approach to seeing what improvements need to be made at the school.
Principal Denece Johnson set up an unprecedented town hall forum this week for parents to offer ideas on how Burton Elementary School could improve.
In her second year as principal at Burton, Johnson conceded she may never do something like it again but felt the forum would ultimately benefit the students.
"I want parents to see where we've been, where we are at and where we can go," Johnson said of the criterion reference test score results in full display on large posters in the gym.
"We feel we have a fantastic core, but as an educator, you wonder if we can do more, so I really want to get the parents' perspective and see what they're thinking."
The parents didn't need to be asked twice -- nearly 30 showed up for the event during the students' summer free time.
They talked about how much homework should be issued; how communication needs to improve between the teachers and parents; giving students the chance to redo tests; the need for more student presentations; less sugar used for rewards in the classroom; making sure kids who lag behind get adequate assistance; better ways to motivate students to read; and finding ways to further challenge academically strong students.
One parent stood and said she dreads parent-teacher conferences, now called SEPs -- for "student educational plan" -- because parents are expected to bring students with them, which means the parents aren't able to really open up with the teacher.
Nearly half of the parents attending nodded their heads in agreement.
Second-grade teacher Mindy Smith responded to the comment by saying, "I had no idea parents felt that way. It was a real eye-opener."
Smith reminded parents that the SEPs are meant to be a celebratory time for students and their progress.
Johnson suggested the school look into allotting some of the 20-minute scheduled SEP time for parents to have some private time with the teacher if they would like.
Other parents stood and talked about wanting better communication between teachers and parents.
"We think teachers sugarcoat things. I feel like they get a little lax in the communication, especially if there is a problem with our child," Renee Freitas said.
Johnson responded by saying, "It's a tightrope teachers walk with the parents who want to know and others who won't even answer the phone when they see it is Burton Elementary calling."
Fourth-grade teacher Jeff Johnson was encouraged to hear the suggestion from Freitas and suggested she be upfront with all of her children's teachers.
"As a teacher, if I know a parent wants to take advantage of extra resources (for their child), I am more inclined to help," he said.
"It is really helpful when parents make an effort to show they want to help their child."
Another parent requested students be allowed to retake tests more often.
"I am given the chance for redos at work to improve, which is the best way to learn from our mistakes," Dan Knights said.
Many of the teachers were taking notes and asking questions of the parents, so they could make changes for the upcoming year to accommodate the suggestions.
Smith was reading through her list of notes when she said, "Now I know what the parents want. I know exactly where their kids stand, but I don't always know what the parents' needs are for their child. This gives them a forum to tell us what their needs are."
Now that the school has a new understanding of how the parents feel, the plan is to move forward with the ideas.
"While working at the state office, I learned that transparency is always best," the principal said. "If we don't like what we see, let's fix it."