School district receives its ‘report card’

Results from the biannual Harris Survey Report, which were presented at a recent Board of Education meeting, have arrived with plenty of data that the district is hoping can be used to increase how much people like going to and working at school here.

The survey looks at satisfaction levels among the school district’s stakeholders including students, teachers, parents and community leaders and provides them with the opportunity to share their perspectives regarding a variety of matters relating to Greenwich Public Schools. And once the data is in, the aim of the district is to use it to try and assist implementing strategies for improvement by simply letting the administration know how things are going.

The district began implementing the survey, which is unofficially known as the “district’s report card,” in 2006 and continues to administer it in late spring every two years. The results came in last month and were discussed before the Board of Education for the first time at its Aug. 30 meeting.

One of the more prominent statistics from the 2012 survey was that the teacher and staff response rate dropped 10% in comparison to the 2010 report. Board of Education Secretary Adriana Ospina said she was “disheartened” to find that the teacher and staff survey group showed the greatest dissatisfaction but also had the biggest drop in participation.

Cathy Delahanty, president of the Greenwich Education Association (GEA), which serves as the public school teacher’s union, also reflected on the survey response rate data during the meeting.

“I am sure that many of my speeches have reflected the sentiments of teachers feeling disconnected from the process and being dictated to,” Ms. Delahanty said. “GEA does understand and appreciate that there have been many efforts by central office to gather teacher input on various committees. However, the expectations for teachers continue to increase at alarming rates. We still need to set priorities for what we teach, how we teach it and how much is taught. I anxiously wait for the day when we have an open discussion with all stakeholders that have input to the budget and decisions that are made about the future of the Greenwich Public Schools.”

Survey data showed that 59% of teachers and staff felt their ability to influence policies that affected them was inadequate, while 36% identified disorderly student behavior as a problem and 32% indicated their involvement in team building and problem solving was not adequate.

In contrast to the teacher and staff response rate, other survey groups generally showed increased participation in the 2012 report.

Elementary students’ participation increased by two percentage points, secondary students’ increased by six percentage points, parents’ increased by two points and community leaders maintained the 23% response rate they held in the 2010 survey.

The data shows there are several areas in which survey participants would like to see improvements, evidenced by a decrease in satisfaction levels by high school students, middle and high school students’ parents, and community leaders.

The report showed that 39% of high school students and 32% of middle school students had felt like a failure at school, while 37% of high school students, 29% of middle school students and 18% of elementary school students indicated that school rules were unfair.

The issue of packed classrooms was another area of discontent, with 46% of high school students and 53% of high school students’ parents indicating that schools were too crowded, and 16% of community leaders reporting that classrooms were not comfortable.

Other areas of dissatisfaction among students included unclean bathrooms, limited library resources and feeling ill-prepared for the working world after leaving school. One key issue among students on all levels was the quality of cafeteria food, and Lisa Beth Savitz, president of the Greenwich PTA Council, said they wanted to see improvement.

In fact, 72% of middle school students said they did not like the food served in the lunchroom, making it the topic of greatest concern for that survey group.

“The trick is to make meals nutritious, appealing to kids and healthy for the bottom line as well,” Ms. Savitz said, adding that the council’s Wellness Committee was “looking forward” to working to that end with the district.

The survey also illustrated that the greatest level of dissatisfaction among parents was found in the lack of individual attention students received from teachers, with 22% of elementary school parents, 31% of middle school parents and 33% of high school parents citing the issue as an area of concern.

Among high school parents, 35% indicated schools did not do an adequate job of communicating when their child had a problem and 28% said preparation of students for college was less than satisfactory.

Additionally, 28% of middle school parents felt the variety of academic courses available needed improvement and 32% of elementary school parents said schools needed to improve on including their views when making decisions.

As for community leaders, 30% said school board members didn’t perform their roles well and 17% said teachers are not supportive of the community.

According to Kim Eves, director of communications for the district, data from the 2012 survey did not evoke any surprises from the district. There are “consistent messages” from stakeholderswho participate in the survey each time it is administered about where they would like to see improvements. Those areas include technology, reporting students’ academic progress to parents, and involving the staff in making decisions about policies that affect them, she said.

Unfortunately, the two-year period between each survey is often not enough time for participants to feel the full impact of programs implemented by the district to address their concerns, Ms. Eves told the Post.

The “Parent Portal,” for example, was an initiative launched in May 2012, providing parents with direct access to their children’s progress reports, grades, and standardized test scores in real time. The program was implemented just around the time the 2012 Harris Report was administered, meaning its impact did not have a chance to be realized before the topic was readdressed in this year’s survey, Ms. Eves explained.

Now that the 2012 Harris data has been received, the next step in the process requires building leaders, program leaders and department heads at each school to share the results with their staff and parents, and to “delve deeper” into the data to understand concerns more specifically, Ms. Eves said.

By the end of December, all data will have been analyzed and used to determine which issues should be focused on and what goals should be set, she said.

In February 2013, district administration will once again present the data to the Board of Education and discuss the implementation of strategies that may be employed to address stakeholders’ concerns.


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