Survey offers look at SPS’s climate, culture 

Published 3:13 pm Friday, June 9, 2023

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Suffolk School Board and the public got a glimpse inside the climate and culture of the city’s school district through results of an annual survey presented June 8.

Suffolk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Dr. Okema S. Branch and Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III presented the results during the School Board’s work session held at the City Council chambers. The presentation focused on six core areas of the school division: survey construction, division-wide employee perceptions, division-wide instructional staff perceptions, both student and parent perceptions, and the feedback and growth for 2023-2024 school year.

Branch said the survey is traditionally administered during the month of March. This year’s administration window was March 7 through 31.

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“Our staff, all employee groups and parent groups who receive the survey receive information on the survey timeframe, the link, information about it, and if there is a request or need for paper versus the online version,” Branch explained. “The participants are all SPS employees, instructional and support groups, our students in the transitional grades of five and six, eight and nine and grade 12, and all of our parents receive the survey.”

The survey was offered online for staff and students, while both online and paper options were available for parents. Survey questions had 43 questions for staff, 44 for parents and 41 for students to answer.

For division-wide employee perceptions, 98% of division-based administrators said they are proud to work in the division, with 94% of school-based support staff (clerical, custodial, cafeteria, nursing) noting they have high quality resources. 

About 93% of that same staff surveyed that safety procedures are followed and they are proud to work in the division. 

Results show that 73% of employees noted they were involved in decisions that impacted their work while 72% said their concerns were resolved in a timely manner.

Division-wide instructional staff perceptions show that 94% of teachers were noted for communicating with parents about student progress. It shows that 93% of school-based instructional staff noted they were held accountable for student learning, with 88% of the same staff noted they were empowered to impact student achievement. 

The survey found that 74% of instructional staff said community resources and volunteers were being used to support student academic progress, a 8% increase from the previous year. Likewise, 72% of high school students noted that they were encouraged to participate in family engagement programs, a 9% increase from last year.

For parent perceptions, 94% said that the schools use technology for learning, while 93% noted that students were expected to work hard. 

The survey found that 91% of parents said the division’s facilities support student learning. Results show 80% of parents noted there were increased opportunities for family and community volunteerism, a 7% increase from the previous year. Likewise, 80% of elementary school parents said cafeteria expectations improved, a 11% increase from last year. 

For middle school parents, 78% said there was an increase in discipline, which decreased 7% from last year. The survey found 77% of high school parents noted the community was informed about the school programs and activities, a 7% decrease from last year.

In the student perceptions section, the survey shows 95% noted that they know what behavior is expected, while 91% said they are provided with what they need to learn efficiently. 

Results show 90% of students also noted they were expected to work hard and do their best. The survey found that 71% of middle school students said their parents were encouraged to be involved in learning, a 5% increase from last year. Likewise, 71% of high school students said their teachers have improved letting students know they can do better in school, which saw a 6% increase. 

The survey report shows that 64% of high school students noted an increase of being recognized for their achievements, an 8% increase from the previous year.

For feedback and growth for the 2023-2024 school year, students treating each other with respect was at 38% with schools being kept clean by students at 48%. Parent perceptions of student safety at the secondary level was at 71%. 

Results show that 80% of support staff noted that they want more opportunities to exercise leadership, while 79% of departmental administrators want concerns resolved efficiently. 

The survey found that 73% of instructional staff want their instructional time protected, while 65% of transportation staff want more professional development opportunities.

Following the presentation, School Board member Kimberly Slingluff asked if there is an opportunity to see the percentages “tied in” all the questions 

“What we have on here is great,” she said. “There’s about six questions per category that you [gave] percentages on, which is about 15% of what was actually answered in the climate survey.”

Slingluff asked Gordon if it is possible to get all the questions that were asked with the percentages that came in as a feedback from these different individual groups.

Gordon replied that he provided board members with information that was studied for the executive summary.

“I don’t believe it is prudent or necessary for the board to be able to see each individual question,” Gordon said. “Once we have those questions, we look for the common themes, and some of our questions that we have, there’s really only one question that relates to that one particular topic.”

Gordon said those are the things that they discuss as a staff, as an administrative group, to try to be able to address what we want to be able to give the board the big picture items and the main areas of focus.

“ If we began to get into each individual question, I think that’s a little too deep for a board member to be able to delve into,” he told Slingluff.

The report shows that participation in the process was up, with the exception of parents.

From 2021 through 2023, staff participation increased to 1,645 this year following a decrease to 1,340 in 2022. 2021’s survey had that number at 1,475 for staff. 

Student participation saw a constant increase throughout the three years, from 2,995 in 2021, to 3,268 in 2022 and then 3,701 this year. 

However, parent participation declined throughout the three years from 3,294 in 2021, 2,695 in 2022 and finally 2,391 this year.