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The City Journals

Albion principal elected to state school board, wants to bring educators’ voice to policymaking

Mar 17, 2021 10:40AM ● By Julie Slama

At the end of the day, Albion Middle School Principal Molly Hart says goodbye to students, but her day isn’t over as the recently elected state school board member will switch her focus to her new job. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“I had no idea I wanted to run,” said the newly elected state school board member. “But the incumbent Sean Newell chose not to run for re-election, and I felt like there needed to be some more educators on the board making decisions.”

Albion Middle School Principal Molly Hart ran against two challengers in the primary election, then ran unopposed in the general election for a seat on the 15-member Utah State Board of Education. 

While being a principal, first at Mt. Jordan Middle and now at Albion, she has followed the state school board and its decision-making. 

“I’ve always been interested in policy. I’ve always been interested in governance. I feel like I’m a better principal when I understand why certain decisions are made and I understand them from the source,” she said.

While she’s not critical and knows the board’s decisions are meant to be well intended, Hart said it doesn’t always end up the way it was thought.

“A lot of times in my career, I see their decisions that are made that I have to implement as a school principal, and I have to lead teachers in that. I understand the motivation. I understand the thought process, but the implementation of it or how it ends up becoming policy and what becomes policy kind of misses the mark sometimes, and it makes it harder to actually accomplish what was set out to do,” she said. “And I think that’s because partially, the people that are making those decisions, don’t always understand the context. So, by serving in this role, I feel I can really make a contribution.”

Hart said with her knowledge of how to oversee schools, it will help with her new position.

“There’s a lot of complexity in running schools that you wouldn’t necessarily expect and knowing those systems puts me in a position to help make better decisions. And better decisions saves money and saves times—and if there’s one thing we know, teachers don’t have enough of that’s time or money,” she said.

For example, Hart said that recently there were some new procedures passed for teacher evaluations. 

“In the improvement of procedures, we actually added complexity for the teachers. It’s going to take teachers longer to do the same process,” she said. 

Another example is making assumptions about teachers not wanting high stakes testing and assessments—or, in other words, looking at a snapshot of information at a particular time.

“That’s not necessarily true. Teachers need and want the feedback on how well they’re doing with students, but what they don’t appreciate or need is the high stakes part of testing. They have really good ideas that ought to be considered on how to make it better and better for everyone. I don’t think that perspective is always heard, and I want to make sure that perspective is heard,” Hart said. “When you’re dealing with young humans, you can’t put too much stock into one single measure; you have to use a holistic kind of approach.”

She said when determinations are made in the state, it’s simplified.

“We boil everything down to a letter grade for schools and we do that because that is easy for the public to understand or to make sense of, but there are other things, other information that we should be providing to parents,” Hart said. “Instead of talking accountability, I believe in transparency. I think that would solve a lot of concerns about not only high stakes assessments or assessments in general, but also some of the issues. I like the idea of transparency and giving community members and parents information that they can use and make sense of to determine whether or not what they value in education of their children is being accomplished.”

Hart, who has worked 23 years in education, will join some other educators on the board and can provide actual teacher input and experience to the discussions of issues.

“I have my own experiences, and the experiences of teachers to add to it, to make decisions,” said the principal who does not plan to leave her current position and also, was congratulated at a recent Canyons Board of Education meeting.

Throughout her career, she has experience working with different groups of people, which is another quality she can bring to the job.

“Working with the legislature to get things accomplished for Utah students is something I think I can help with,” she said, adding that she has talked to legislators in the past. “I’ve called and said, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ or ‘I really liked this idea, please don’t drop it.’ I communicate informally because I feel like that’s part of my job as an educator.”

It was a couple of legislators who “finally just said, ‘run for the state school board,’” said Hart, who continuously adds educational degrees to her repertoire. “It was either I run for state school board or I go to law school, and this is less expensive. I would perpetually be a student if I could. I really love learning and I’m passionate about teaching kids to love learning and making their educational experience the best it can be.”