Harris school poll raises questions

Superintendent Howell: Scores are high, but not good enough

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— Chris Moessner uses fever to help explain the purpose of the Harris Interactive School Poll, which was conducted last year for the Steamboat Springs School District.

A fever often signals the onset of an illness. Accordingly, perceptions that a school is not safe, that administrators communicate poorly with teachers, or that the school district improperly spends taxpayers' dollars serve as symptoms of potential problems.

The purpose of the Harris Interactive School Poll was to ask district students, teachers and parents a series of questions to gauge opinion on a broad range of issues related to Steamboat schools.

"This survey did not to go out and find problems," Moessner said. "It's designed to find symptoms of potential problems. It is your opportunity to learn from this survey and go ask additional questions. You look for symptoms and you drive it toward solutions."

Survey results for the four district schools - Steamboat Springs High School, Steamboat Springs Middle School, Soda Creek Elementary School and Strawberry Park Elementary School - and the district as a whole indicate the school system scored equal to or better than the mean scores compiled in the Harris database.

"You are about equal to what we see, so that's a good sign," Moessner said. "The more satisfied students are, the more able they are to learn. The more satisfied employees are, the more productive they are. And satisfied parents are more involved."

Overall, the poll showed students, teachers and parents were satisfied with the district, particularly its commitment to technology. Students and parents also were satisfied with the teachers.

On average, 75 percent of students gave their school a grade of A or B. Eighty-five percent of teachers gave the district an A or B.

Eighty-two percent of parents gave their child or children's schools an A or B.

Areas of concern centered on communication between teachers and parents and communication between teachers and the admi-nistrators and School Board. Teachers also said, in general, they do not feel enough is done to show appreciation for their work.

"We've done some things geared toward showing appreciation, but you've got to ask people what they want," Superintendent Donna Howell said. "Obviously, what we are doing is maybe not what will make them feel appreciated."

Howell said the teachers are the heart of the district's success.

"Four years ago, there was a communication audit and we put some things in place, but obviously they aren't working as well as we wanted," she said. "There are issues we have identified, and we have to ask questions."

Elementary students indicated they are most satisfied with their teachers (8.7) and computer technology (8.4).

Secondary students, which include middle and high school students, are most satisfied with computer technology (7.6), the quality of teaching (7.5) and the school counselor (7.4).

Ratings are on a 1 to 10 scale.

"Technology scores are pretty darn high," Moessner said.

Teachers are most satisfied with their assistant principal (8.6), their direct supervisor (8.5), their career (8.4), their students (8.3) and parental support (8.2).

"You clearly have an active and interested set of teachers," Moessner said. "This is higher that what we normally see."

Staff members are satisfied with their assistant principal (8.4), the direct supervisor (8.3), the students (7.9), their careers (7.9) and computer technology (7.9).

Parents are most satisfied with the teachers (8.2) and computer technology (8.0).

Elementary students expressed concern with school buses, from the behavior of the children on them to the helpfulness of drivers.

"Those kids who do not feel safe on the bus, don't feel safe at school," Moessner said. "This would be an issue I would suggest you, as the board, should be looking into at the elementary school level."

While 12 percent of elementary students polled cited the bus as a concern, 59 percent of elementary students polled said they did not like school lunch food. Moessner said issues such as school safety are more significant, but the percentage of children dissatisfied with school lunches creates the chance to ask questions.

At the middle school, 23 to 30 percent of students did not like the curriculum in English or math. Students also expressed a desire for an improved relationship with the principal.

Forty-seven percent of high school students who turned in surveys also expressed the desire for a better relationship with the principal. Thirty-seven percent of high school students disliked the presentation of curriculum in core subjects.

Moessner said parents' top concerns were clear.

"The number one issue here was, do your teachers challenge your child to learn, and are they responding to needs and concerns of parents," he said. "If you are keeping them out of the classroom, that is linked to not being treated with respect."

Scores were also lower with regard to the budget process and the attitude toward the central administration, which Moessner said is common.

"Parents are always worried their money is being spent right," he said.

Teachers, he added, are usually the most honest respondents because of their connection to students and parents, as well as the curriculum and district policies. They also give the lowest scores.

"They are the ones driving change and the ones most affected by rules in the workplace," Moessner said. "Teacher ratings overall were pretty strong in this district. What is interesting to me is that there are a couple issues coming to the fore, and it seems to be about personal respect and the relationship the staff has with the superintendent and School Board. It's about frequent, effective communication. Go find out what that means."

The Harris Interactive School Poll was conducted last spring, and results were analyzed three weeks ago.

Students in grades three through 12 were polled on paper or online, and 86 percent of elementary students and 75 percent of secondary students responded. Seventy percent of teachers and staff filled out a survey online, but parents had just a 16 percent return rate with surveys that were sent home.

There was some confusion about the survey due date, and an extension was granted.

"I don't think we did a good job communicating and encouraging parents (to complete the survey)," Howell said. "Next time, we need to do a better job."

Board member Jeff Troeger wanted to know if accurate assessments could be made with such a low response rate from parents.

"I feel good I can do an analysis," Moessner said.

- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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