Support for online learning as the top method to manage growth in the Alpine School District has dropped since March, survey results reveal.

The option went from the most-preferred way to manage growth during a March survey to the fourth most-preferable option of six listed on a September survey.

“You can probably predict, as we did, that online coursework would move,” Shane Farnsworth, an assistant superintendent in the district, told its board of education on Sept. 22. “And move it did.”

The change comes after students were transitioned to online-only learning in March as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. School returned in August, as families were faced with the choice of their students either learning online or in physical schools.

The March survey, conducted by Y2 Analytics, found that parents were in favor of grade configuration adjustments, school boundary adjustments, modified extended days and online coursework as ways to keep up with leaps in enrollment. 

The district re-sent the March survey in September after deciding to move an anticipated bond vote from this November’s ballot to 2022, due to concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the economy. While the district hasn’t released a list of projects a bond could fund, it is expected that the majority of funds would be directed toward building new schools. 

The March survey showed that voters supported a $475 to $500 million bond.

The district had 81,532 students enrolled last year and is projected to have more than 86,000 by the 2024-25 academic year. 

If a bond were to pass in 2022, the earliest a new school would break ground is in 2023. Elementary schools take a year to build, middle schools require two and high schools take three.

The survey aimed to find which options would be supported in the meantime. It was sent to patrons the district had email addresses for, to employees and was also posted on social media portals.

About 14,750 people responded to the survey, including 11,382 parents, 1,102 employees and 1,657 people who are both. About 3,300 people in Lehi responded.

The district was pleased with how many people from the various high school clusters responded.

“I’m glad it was broadly participated in across the entire district,” Scott Carlson, the president of the school board, said. 

The district had hundreds of pages of answers to an open-ended question that were submitted. While members of the board did not have time before the meeting to review all of the comments, Farnsworth said it wants to outsource reading those comments.

“We believe there is a rich data mine there that we need to mine,” he said. 

A few comments presented to the board included concerns about class sizes, the quality of teachers, safety, the pandemic and the social and emotional wellbeing of students.

The September survey results showed that the least-supported option would be moving to double sessions. When asked which options they would support, 25.61% said they’d support adjusting school boundaries, 24.2% said they’d support grade reconfigurations, 21.04% would support a modified, extended day and 16.94% said they’d support online coursework. About 10% would support year-round school.

Grade reconfigurations would move sixth-grade students to middle schools and ninth-grade students to high schools. Boundary adjustments could include consolidating two schools in areas with declining growth into one building.

As a city, Lehi most supported grade configuration adjustments, followed by school boundary changes.

Following the survey, the district’s next steps will include formalizing a plan, determining the scope and timing of a plan, communicating with school groups and conducting community meetings. The district plans to have a list of recommended actions ready to present to the board by late November or early December.

Ada Wilson, a member of the board, warned about the current situation becoming too much of an influence on decisions.

“Just because we’re in a pandemic right now and have an economically uncertain future, I think we need to plan bigger than that,” she said.

Wilson encouraged considering the costs of change.

Sara Hacken, a member of the board, said that as “the boots on the ground,” teachers and school administrators need to be included more in the process of deciding which options to pursue.

“I am really concerned that I do not see educators in this plan anywhere,” she said. 

Choosing to adjust boundaries could be an opportunity to clean up areas where students from one elementary school could end up going to three different high schools, said Amber Bonner, a member of the board.

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