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LAPS reviews climate survey

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By Sarah von Sternberg

Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus and board members Tuesday reviewed the data from this year’s school climate survey, which measures people’s experiences of school life and reflects norms, goals, teaching practices and organizational structure.

The data analysis was completed and presented by Erin Middleton, a Mountain Elementary parent and contracted statistician for the district, who gave a thorough look into what the results mean for LAPS.

For the past three years, Dr. Hugh Prather of Prather Consulting has conducted a climate survey for each school site and the central office at LAPS. Many of the original questions have remained the same over the years in order to look at trends.

Middleton began by presenting the district average scores across all sites in regards to the top five lowest scoring questions and then top five highest scoring questions over the past three years.

The top five highest scoring questions include things like, “teachers and staff go the extra mile for students” and “teachers and the rest of the staff are committed to helping their students.” The overall sentiment is that teachers believe that they are there for the students, they work well together and students are the highest priority.

“It’s a good overall feeling for our schools to score so highly on each one of these questions,” commented Middleton.

Although these were high scoring questions, this year showed a slight decrease from last year’s results.

The five lowest scoring questions were issues such as, “the morale in the school is high” and “I have a clear sense of where the district is headed.” The results varied in comparison to last year’s data.

Middleton pointed out that while such questions have scored low in the past, they are on an upward trend, which is good to see, she said.

Once effort is put into any of these areas, LAPS can use the survey data to see if a visible difference was made.
Middleton shared a quote from Leo Tolstoy that came to her mind when she was reviewing this data: “All happy are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” She said it was interesting to see how similarly the schools scored in what they were happy with and the differences in what each school saw as an opportunity for growth.

In order to answer the question, “What do we actually see that we can address to make things better for staff,” Middleton narrowed the data down to four overall common themes, which were communication, social environment, professional development and better meetings.

For professional development, the overwhelming feeling Middleton got from reading the surveys was that most teachers want to keep learning and wanted more of a say in the content they learned.

Teachers just want to know what everyone else has learned, so one unique idea presented was to create a district database of teacher experts or completed teacher training that everyone had access to.
A frequently recurring sentiment was the desire for more collaboration between peers, but many feel like routine duties and other factors stand in the way of having the time to collaborate.

Social environment was a broad category that Middleton talked about which included gossiping, camaraderie and feeling heard. “I feel like the schools where things were working the best had few of these comments.”

One way Middleton suggested tackling this category was to hear how other schools deal with these issues. By sharing best practices, principals can get an idea of what works and what does not. 

The need for “better communication” was a broad sentiment that is pretty typical of any organization of this size, according to Middleton, but overall, the survey indicated that people wanted to talk together in different ways.

In conclusion, the climate survey indicated that many things are going very well, but a common refrain is the need for “more teacher voice,” whether it is about professional development, meetings or best way to communicate.
“People would like more input in how these things impact their lives,” said Middleton.

After the presentation, Board Member Steve Boerigter asked, “Now what?”

Not wanting to lose sight of these issues, he stressed the importance of a consolidated effort to keep accountability.

Steinhaus said school principals would review the information relevant to their school.

Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Accountability Kelly Taylor also said professional development is an issue that is already being worked on by principals and the district office.

Not only is the administration working on improving the quality of district-wide professional development, but also looking at how can teachers choose their own professional development.

Taylor said, “That’s the most important thing. What do (teachers) want? Because they know what they want and they know what they need.”