Survey gives schools B, C grades
- Published: June 30, 2011
Schools are constantly evaluating their students to see how much they’ve learned, but it’s not so often that the students get to do the reverse. This spring the Yellow Springs school district asked its students, teachers, parents and community members to use a survey to rate how the district was performing in areas from curriculum to school spirit. The district released the results of the survey this week, and overall, the community rated it “within average to above average range,” according to the survey report.
The survey was coordinated by local parent Cheryl Meyer, a professor of evaluation at Wright State University, with the help of her partner, Deb Zendlovitz, and an advisory committee, including board members Angela Wright and Aïda Merhemic, teachers Jodi Pettiford and Terry Graham, students Miranda Russell and Auggie Knemeyer, and parent Shernaz Reporter. The committee created four versions of the survey for teachers, community members, 4th–6th grade students, and McKinney/Yellow Springs High School students, who were asked to evaluate school climate, curriculum, communication, relationships, management and the district as a whole on an academic grading scale of A to F, including ample room for narrative comments.
Among the 92 quantitative questions, the district received mostly Bs and Cs, with a few As and Ds. The district did not receive any Fs. According to Meyer, the analysts used the quantitative grading data to establish the weakest fields and used the qualitative comment data to further interpret those statistics. While the quantitative data suggests that there are no burning crises in the district, there are ways in which the schools could be better, Meyer said this week.
Among the most positive ratings were the accessibility, response to student issues and openness to staff input by Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh. Parents also favored YSHS Principal Tim Krier’s accessibility, and high school students recognized that Krier was “doing well considering it was his first year.” Parents praised Superintendent Mario Basora’s “accessibility, positive communication” and “job done well during his first year.”
All four groups also feel that the district is succeeding in creating an environment of acceptance for a diverse range of people and their identities and lifestyles. The survey report recommends that the district “take pride in having created a safe place for diversity and individual differences.”
Some areas in need of improvement, according to the survey, included communication between the school board and the parents and faculty. Faculty rated the board low on its ability to relate to school issues, be present at school events and be open to faculty/staff input. Parents also said that “the school board is out of touch” and needs better communication, according to the survey report. And while both parents and students praised certain aspects of Principal Krier’s work, both groups also gave him a low rating on “how well he handles student issues,” and said that he “can do a better job of listening to students.”
Regarding drug use and high-risk behaviors in the schools, all four groups, including primary and secondary students, teachers and parents, gave low scores for both awareness and prevention of drug use, bullying and discipline in the schools. One high school student commented that there is “poor and inconsistent discipline of disruptive students,” and one teacher commented that there is “an unsafe climate with bullying and drug use.”
The district also scored low in its use and prioritization of modern technology and the deficiency and lack of variety of the school curriculum. Those issues, along with student leadership, surfaced in the Class of 2020 10-year strategic planning process as common priorities that need improvement, District Superintendent Mario Basora said in an interview this week. The 2020 plan included a separate community survey that was administered in May, and is being used by a committee to draft a strategic plan to present to the board at the end of the summer.
The overall results of the district’s evaluation survey do not surprise Meyer, who, as a statistician, knows that most data collection averages out to a bell curve. According to her interpretation, the survey says that the district is doing a pretty good job of educating, and that if it wants to improve, there are some areas that could use some attention. Whether the community wants to do the work it will take to push that change, however, is a different matter entirely, she said in an interview this week.
“Here’s the data. The results are very good, but there’s always room for improvement — if there were no recommendations, you wouldn’t need the survey,” she said. “Do [the issues] need to be worked on? They’re Cs. It depends on what we want.”
According to Basora, who does have his sights set on improving the district, three issues in particular stand out as things the community feels strongly about, which are the curriculum, technology and drug use. The 2020 process is already aimed at utilizing technology and teachers to turn the curriculum into a student-directed, team- and project-based learning environment focused on relevant, real-world issues. And while the fact that students and parents are concerned about drug and discipline issues doesn’t surprise him, he believes that the strongest solutions to those problems will come from the students and parents themselves. According to Meyer, that leadership depends on will.
“Here’s the catch — it’s a C. Downtown Dayton would be thrilled to get a C, but for us, it’s let’s open the dialogue and hear people’s thoughts and concerns,” she said. “If the community feels there’s a need to do something about the problem, then we get significant students and parents involved to do that.”
According to Meyer, the comments about the school board and school leaders being “out of touch” indicate to her that the community wants its leaders to be more involved in student activities and events. The appearance of disconnect for the board could in some ways, according to Basora, be the board doing its job to set policy and guidelines and not micromanage the superintendent.
The survey results were analyzed by two of Meyer’s graduate students, who counted the quantitative data in several different ways and spent about 60 hours counting and analyzing the qualitative data as well, Meyer said. Ultimately, the survey, which is the first comprehensive community-wide evaluation of the district, will serve as a baseline to build on and use as a guide for the schools, said Meyer, who donated her services to the district her children attend. She recommends that a similar exercise be completed each year.
The complete survey results are available online at ysschools.org. The survey report can be found on the News Web site, ysnews.com.