SPS climate, culture survey favorable

Published 5:31 pm Tuesday, July 20, 2021

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Surveys of Suffolk Public Schools’ staff, students and their parents came back highly favorable for the school division — a testament, according to Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, to listening to concerns and critiques from all groups since he started in October 2019 and then striving to make improvements.

“My staff says it’s because of my personality,” Gordon said at the July 15 School Board meeting at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School. “And the (School) Board says it’s about my demeanor and my overall positivity. But I’ve heard people’s concerns when I came in here, and how their opinion wasn’t valued (and) people were leaving for different reasons.”

He points to pay increases among teachers, bus drivers and support staff, revising its technology, its branding and marketing and other initiatives — with more to come, he said — as just some of the reasons for the high marks.

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Gordon said it’s about creating a family and team culture across the division, despite what any critics say.

“Unfortunately people want to create this different narrative, that people don’t like it here,” Gordon said. “Well, the data, during a pandemic, said otherwise. I mean, it literally said otherwise.”

School Board Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck also addressed that point in her remarks praising the results of the surveys.

“One of the things I think this shows … is when we have people who come before us and they give information that’s not quite right,” Brooks-Buck said, “this gives us the opportunity to present to you what is quite right.”

Among 1,475 total responses among employees across the school division, 93% gave high marks for how instructional staff work as a team and are encouraged to improve their skills.

Of school-based support staff, 96% said they felt respected, and 95% felt proud to work in the division, and among division-based departmental support staff, 94% said they felt respected and 93% said they were proud to work in the division.

Division-based departmental administrators said they felt respected (97%), and 97% of transportation department workers said they are proud to work in the school division.

Among the 1,132 instructional staff members who took part in the survey, 73% said morale is high at the division level. And though that percentage is among the lower ones across the survey groups, that mark is up from 57% in 2019 and 52% in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

High percentages of instructional staff felt that teachers communicate with parents (98%), that they were held accountable for student learning (94%), that schools were safe and orderly (93%) and that students are aware of staff expectations (93%). There was also a dramatic jump in those who felt discipline policies are effective, with 83% feeling that way. That is up from 53% over the last three years.

Though there was a smaller percentage of those who took part in the March parent perception survey — 3,294 overall — at least 95% felt schools are using technology to help student learning, and the same percentage felt students are expected to work hard. Most agreed that school facilities support student learning (93%) and more felt that transportation has improved — up from 68% in 2019 to 81%. A higher percentage of parents also felt that school cafeterias have improved — up from 71% in 2019 to 80%.

The student perception survey, also distributed in March among those in grades 5, 6, 8, 9 and 12, showed high percentages felt they knew behavior expectations (97%), that they are expected to work hard and do their best (95%) and that they have the resources needed to learn (94%). The percentage of students who said their peers treat teachers with respect was 81%, up from 45% in 2019. Gordon said about 60% of those students, 2,995 in all, participated.

Gordon told the School Board that the division does want to make improvements in several areas: the perceptions of instructional staff being involved in decisions that impact their work;  transportation staff opinions being valued and respected; improve professional learning and training for division-based departmental support staff; improve perceptions on student achievement being recognized; and improve student perceptions that one adult knows them well.

All of those areas had at least 63% who gave favorable feedback.

Gordon said he is pushing customer service and doing what’s right for people across the school division.

“I also want to make sure people understand that I know that we still have some areas to improve in,” Gordon said. “That’s why I put those five focus bullets up there so that people could see that, and we’ve already started that.

“I’m just happy that people understand that we have that listening ear. We’ve eliminated that perception that the (school administrative office) is this ivory white tower that no one can come to and talk to, and I’m very visible in the schools.”