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Parents, students, staff assess schools

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A majority of parents, students and staff at Yellow Springs schools have positive impressions of the district staff and schools, according to a recent survey conducted by the Yellow Springs School District. For example, two thirds of district students would recommend the district to other students, while 84 percent of parents expressed confidence in the work done by the district. Almost all parent respondents said they felt welcome and respected at the schools, and that the environment in the schools is caring and supportive.

These opinions were solicited through anonymous online surveys taken recently by school staff and parents, and by students at Mills Lawn Elementary and McKinney Middle School/Yellow Springs High School. Approximately 50 percent of the staff (58 teachers) and 318 parents and community members participated. While school officials said this week they’re unsure of the percentage of parents that participated, the district has about 700 students.

“We want to use the results of the survey to enhance areas of greatness and improve areas of weakness,” said District Superintendent Mario Basora in an interview following the Feb. 8 school board meeting, where some preliminary survey results were discussed. “We needed the information — people won’t often tell you how they’re feeling face to face.”

One hundred percent of district students took the survey, with the “most constructive criticism” coming from the 248 7–12 graders, who tend to give “much more pointed feedback” about the topics addressed by the questionnaire, according to Basora. 

McKinney and YSHS students  were reserved in their praise, with many more (around a third) answering “neutral/not sure” or “dissatisfied/very dissatisfied” to questions of teacher performance and overall satisfaction than other demographics. Mills Lawn students expressed approval of their teachers and the work they are doing, with only single-digit percentages noting their dissatisfaction. The vast majority of survey takers in all categories feel the Yellow Springs district is superior to surrounding districts.

Three quarters of staff respondents agree or strongly agree that the district fosters trust among staff and provides them with opportunities to develop their skills. Staff analysis of project-based learning, the district’s preferred teaching methodology, showed that while most staff members agreed that PBL is a sound institutional approach, almost 40 percent of respondents were unsure of their own abilities in “implementing high-quality project-based learning.” However, the majority of parents, approximately 70–75 percent, agreed or strongly agreed that the district’s academic program is challenging and accommodates the learning style of individual students. 

Respondents in all surveys had generally positive impressions of school administrators and the school board. The majority of staff reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the jobs done by both school principals and the superintendents, with slight reservations when it came to questions of the superintendent supporting shared decision making among staff. Around a third of respondents said they felt “neutral/not sure” if this practice was encouraged.

Survey methodology

While the results were helpful in getting a sense of what the community and the staff thinks of the district, the overall results were “nothing particularly surprising,” Basora said, as they reflected what the district has seen in years past and what administrators have deduced from conversations with staff members and the community.

The district conducted similar surveys in 2011 and 2012, with a staff-only survey conducted in 2015. The original survey was developed by local residents and parents of district students, but was updated by advancement director Dawn Boyer to expand the surveys and “get questions geared to the work the district is doing now,” Basora said. For example, while there were questions gauging the performance of school administrators on past surveys, the updated surveys include questions about the district’s treasurer; student services coordinator, who oversees such departments as special education and food service; and the advancement office. The staff and parent surveys ran 37 questions, while student surveys were shorter in length.

Basora said he will be convening a staff meeting soon in order to address the results of the survey.

“We want to be the best school in Ohio and deliver the best to the students of Yellow Springs,” he said.

As of this week, the results of all of the surveys will be posted on the district’s website.

In other school board business:

• The school board passed a resolution at the February meeting that officially selected Ruetschle Architects as the firm that will take charge of the district’s community engagement process as it explores options for constructing new buildings or rehabbing existing facilities. Basora said in an interview last week that the firm was selected because it is local — based in Dayton — because it has “great” references from other districts and because the culture and personality of the firm meshes well with that of the district. 

“We wanted the firm that provided the most comprehensive community engagement process,” Basora said. “They will give the community many opportunities to give feedback on the work.”

Moreover, he said, the firm’s body of work fits the community; Ruetschle Architects designed the most energy efficient school in Ohio. Students will also participate in the design process, providing feedback and ideas about what kind of school they would like to see. The next steps will be forming committees within the community that will put forth ideas about what they would like to see included in the school, and scheduling the first community-wide engagement meeting.

According to the surveys recently taken by the district, staff opinion about the quality of the current school facilities is evenly split between neutral/satisfied and dissatisfied/very dissatisfied. Around a quarter of McKinney and YSHS students were dissatisfied with the facilities, while a third of parent respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the condition of the buildings.

• The district conducted its semi-annual bullying report and reported 10 incidents of bullying during the first half of the school year. In a report handed out at the meeting, Basora noted that the district uses the state of Ohio’s legal definition of bullying, which generally involves repeated verbal, written, electronic or physical acts targeted at a specific individual that creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive environment” for the student. Basora characterized the results at the meeting as a “slight increase from last year but not substantially different than normal.” There were a total of seven incidents during the 2015–2016 school year.

All but one of the incidents of bullying this year were in grades 6–9, which Basora characterized as “typically the hardest years for students.” In a follow-up interview, he elaborated on the results and said that most incidents of bullying involved a group of friends harassing a previous member of that friend group after a change in relationship dynamics among that group.

While conceding that such harassment is a customary part of middle school, Basora said the district has taken steps to proactively address bullying. Anti-bullying education is part of the health class curriculum, and students participate in workshops that address bullying, including an annual, all-day seminar on the topic. Students are also given opportunities for mediation, in which the individuals involved in the incidents are able to discuss their problems under the supervision of an arbitrator. A key part of this mediation is to give the bullied a voice, Basora said, an effective way to correct the misconceptions and miscommunications that may have led to the incidents of harassment in the first place.

• The district received its Annual State Special Education Profile for the 2016-17 school year, in which the district is assessed on how it performs according to guidelines established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The district was rated on characteristics such as services for children with disabilities, achievement levels and preparedness for life beyond high school. The district had to meet or exceed 15 benchmarks to be in compliance with the state guidelines. According to the profile, the Yellow Springs school district met 100 percent of the requirements.

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