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Gena Siemieniec, a vice president of the ECRA Group, presented the results of a survey of School District 65 administrators, teachers, parents and community members to the District 65 School Board on Dec. 3. ECRA, a firm specializing in educational research, administered the survey in the spring of 2012.

“District 65 is a high performing school district,” said Dr. Siemieniec. “District stakeholders rate the quality of education highly and there is general agreement that the District addresses students’ cognitive, emotional, physical, social, and creative development in addition to their academic growth.”

“However, stakeholders also identify areas for improvement within the District,” she said. “Stakeholders desire a primary emphasis on hiring and retaining quality teachers and student achievement above all else.”

Overall Views
On an overall basis, 22% of the parents surveyed rated the quality of education at District 65’s schools as “excellent,” 50% as “above average,” 25% as “average,” 3% as “below average,” and 0% as “unsatisfactory.” According to data presented by ECRA, these percentages are each within one percentage point of parents’ ratings of similar school districts in the region.

Administrators, staff and teachers gave relatively low marks to their overall experience working in District 65, compared to survey results of similar school districts. The table below provides the percentage of administrators, staff and faculty who rated their work experience as “excellent” or “above average,” compared to their peers at similar school districts (the “benchmark”).

                              D 65   Benchmark

Administrators       75%            84%

Staff                      60%           76%

Teachers                52%           68%

Board member Richard Rhykus said, “It’s important to note how we compare to the benchmark. What stood out to me is our ratings, whether its administrators, faculty or staff, all are lower-notably lower.”

Board member Kim Weaver said, “We pride ourselves on being such a wonderful District. But people feel we’re not an excellent place to work at. I suggest we do something about that.”

Standards and Expectations

“District 65 stakeholders rate standards and expectations throughout the District as high on survey items,” says ECRA’s report. The report shows that 80% of administrators and 100% of teachers said they had high expectations for students, compared to 71% of parents. In a related question, 100% of teachers said they encouraged students to achieve to their maximum potential, compared to 69% of the parents.

Dr. Siemieniec said, “Generally if you’re less than 70%, you’re getting into an area where there’s an opportunity to look – see what can be done to improve that.”

ECRA’s report also noted that parents’ responses to open-ended questions raised concerns about “the rigor of academic standards.”

Curriculum and Instruction

“The District curriculum is widely praised, specifically in language arts and math and for promoting critical thinking and connecting subject matter to students’ lives,” says ECRA’s report. “However, there is room for improvement in ratings of the quality of the science and social studies programs.”

In ranking the overall quality of the curriculum areas, 75% of the teachers ranked the math curriculum as being above average or excellent. The percentages were 74% for the English/language arts curriculum, 57% for the sciences curriculum, and 44% for the social studies curriculum.

In response to survey questions, 76% of parents agreed that the curriculum “promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” 70% that it “meets my child’s needs,” 77% that “our schools prepare students to be successful in the next level of their education and in life,” 65% that “instruction in our schools addresses the individual needs of each student,” and 59% that “my child receives meaningful homework assignments on a regular basis.”

In open-ended comments, ECRA said many parents expressed concerns that their child “is not being challenged enough, specifically in math, science and social studies.” In addition, middle schools in general “are rated lower than elementary schools in terms of overall quality.”

In response to a question about how the District’s schools could be improved, ECRA summarized: “Parents expect higher standards and expectations in the District and a larger emphasis on hiring and retaining quality teachers. Parents are especially concerned about the lack of gifted programs and differentiated learning in the classrooms and desire more hands-on learning, a stronger science curriculum, and more fine arts and language programming. Parents would also like to see less of an emphasis on testing and strong implementation of a discipline code that prevents classroom disruptions.”

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said there was a common theme between parents’ concerns expressed on the ECRA survey and their concerns expressed on the school-based survey discussed by the Board at its last meeting: The science and social science curricula are rated significantly below other subject areas, and there is a concern about the middle schools. Assistant Superintendent Ellen Fogelberg and Jamilla Pitts, social studies facilitator, said these issues are being addressed.

 The report adds, “Many faculty, parents and community members express frustration with the lack of District transparency and feel a fresh District vision with greater focus on children and instruction is needed in the future.”

Teaching Staff

ECRA’s report reflects that 86% of parents agree that District 65 has “a highly skilled, committed, and nurturing staff,” 80% agree that “there is a commitment to the cognitive, emotional, physical, and creative development of all students,” and that 87% agree the schools are “welcoming and supportive to … parents.” Only 52% of parents agree that “teachers are held accountable for my child’s achievements.”

Teachers’ responses to some survey questions suggest areas of concern: 43% of the teachers agree they are recognized and rewarded for their work and achievements, 51% agree that staff meetings focus on important issues including instructional improvement, 53% agree that they have structured time to collaborate with other faculty on improving the curriculum, teaching and learning; 49% agree that a comprehensive staff development program is offered; and 34% agree that the employee evaluation process [the one in place in the spring of 2012] is fair and helpful.

In open-ended comments teachers expressed “dissatisfaction with the quantity of initiatives and lack of planning from year-to-year;” they “desire a voice in the decision-making process when results affect teachers’ work;” they suggest, “Increasing staff such as coaches, teaching assistants, and special education teachers in the classroom … as a means to support instruction and learning;” they desire “strong building leaders that work collaboratively with faculty and staff;” they want “a teacher evaluation system that focuses more on individuals and less on statistics.”

ECRA’s report adds, “Faculty members assert they could focus more on instruction if there were less testing and paperwork requirements that take away from students and the classroom. In addition, faculty members express concerns with special education intitiatives. Many feel it takes away from other students in the classroom and has resulted in struggling students not receiving all the support they need.”

The Next Survey

At the Board’s Nov. 19 meeting, the Board discussed the “2011-12 School-Parent Survey” that solicited parents’ comments about specific schools. ECRA’s 2012 “Stakeholder Survey” solicited information from administrators, parents and community members on a District-wide basis. A number of the questions on ECRA’s survey are the same as those used in surveys it administers at other school districts, so ECRA is able to provide benchmark data from similar school districts for comparison purposes.

Board members noted there were benefits from each survey, but also some duplication. Board President Katie Bailey asked Dr. Murphy to work with the persons who administered the surveys to determine the best way to proceed with stakeholder surveys and to increase the response rate of under represented groups. Dr. Murphy is scheduled to present his recommendation toward the end of January.

Level of Agreement

For most questions, respondents were asked to state their level of agreement: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree or strongly disagree. When this article gives the percentage of respondents who agreed, it combines the percentages of those who strongly agreed or agreed.Survey Response Rates/Demographics

ECRA distributed surveys to 1,181 administrators/teachers/ staff and received 515 responses, for a 28% completion rate; it distributed 5,068 surveys to parents of District 65 students and received 1,143 responses, for a 23% response rate. It distributed 15,000 surveys to community members and received 353 responses, for a 2% response rate.

Of the 1,143 parents who responded, 6% were Asian, 12% African American, 7% Hispanic, 9% multi-racial, 66% white, and 1% other. Both African American and Hispanic parents were underrepresented. Last year, the ethnic distribution of the student body was 5% Asian, 25% African American, 18% Hispanic, 7% multi-racial, 44% white and 1% other.

Board member Andy Pigozzi asked if there was any way to increase minority participation in the survey. Other Board members expressed the same concern. Board President Katie Bailey asked Superintendent Hardy Murphy to explore ways in which this might be done.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...