Administrators Get Poor Marks On Teachers’ Survey
By: Alex Scofield
The results of an online survey taken by members of the Sandwich teachers’ union in December reflects a lack of confidence in the district’s top administrators.
Sandwich Educators Association President Laura R. Carlyle said the survey was prompted by concerns raised by teachers to their school representatives throughout the district.
The survey, which was composed with assistance from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, was administered to teachers though a secure online portal in December and completed by 172 teachers—roughly 72 percent of the district’s teaching staff.
Some school administrators have questioned the union’s motivation for conducting the survey. They said the survey had a negative bent and was done in the midst of mid-year budget cutbacks. They also criticized the union for releasing the results publicly before discussing them with Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson.
Ms. Carlyle said that the results of the survey are telling, as a high percentage of the survey respondents agreed that a lack of open communication was the district’s biggest problem.
More than 67 percent of respondents reported that school principals did not give them enough input into education-related decisions; 69 percent said they cannot disagree with their principals and still maintain a positive relationship; and 64 percent said that principals do not provide them enough support when they are facing challenges in the classroom.
“Teacher input is neither sought nor valued,” Ms. Carlyle said.
Ms. Carlyle said that the results of the survey were not meant to be criticisms of individual school principals, but rather a critique of the overall direction of the district.
“The principals of the district are employees as well; they follow direction from their leadership,” she said.
The survey also featured a section full of questions about the performance of Dr. Johnson.
The section on Dr. Johnson did feature some positive feedback on the superintendent, including her ability to manage a safe, clean, and healthy environment for students and teachers.
The feedback also indicates that teachers believed Dr. Johnson is able to ensure that the district remains well organized in times of crisis and provides consistent discipline to students and teachers in each of the schools.
However, the survey also shows that the teachers have serious concerns about the superintendent’s willingness to seriously consider their feedback.
Only 10 percent of the survey respondents agreed that the superintendent had earned the trust of the teaching staff; 82 percent said they did not have enough input into the kind of professional development the district invested in; and 78 percent said Dr. Johnson did not fully understand the challenges facing the district.
Additionally, 82 percent felt it was untrue that they could challenge the “status quo” in the district without “fear of reprisal.”
School committee Chairman Robert F. Simmons Jr. said though he had not looked over the survey, he was skeptical of the motivations of SEA leadership for conducting it and then releasing the results to the public before discussing the results with Dr. Johnson.
He also disputed claims by Ms. Caryle that the survey was made available to every member of the teacher staff and that 72 percent of the staff participated.
“It’s very important to note that not all teachers were surveyed. The union chose who would have the opportunity to respond to the survey,” he said. “I’m not sure of the exact number of teachers in the district, but it’s probably at least double [the number of respondents],” he said.
According to the district’s business office, there are approximately 280 teachers currently working in the four schools.
Mr. Simmons said he had also spoken personally to some teachers who refused to take the survey because they considered its tone too negative.
“I have had discussions with a number of teachers who were very concerned about the negative tone and focus of the union’s survey questions, as well as who the actual survey respondents were, since only a very limited number of teachers were given the survey, and even less returned it,” Mr. Simmons wrote in an e-mail to the Enterprise. “Some mentioned that they did not respond specifically due to the antagonistic spirit of the survey. Others expressed concern that the survey was taken while the recent mid-year budget cuts were being discussed.”
The survey asked respondents if they felt the superintendent was a capable steward of the district’s finances, to which more than 80 percent of respondents responded that she was not.
Ms. Carlyle, though, said that the union went to great lengths to ensure the survey was not biased and that its questions would not encourage respondents to provide negative feedback.
Ms. Carlyle said that she hoped the school committee and the administration would not look at the survey as an attack but instead regard it as a starting point for a much-needed discussion about the teachers’ concerns.
“I so sincerely hope that [the school committee and the superintendent] will see this as data, a snapshot of conditions,” she said. “It has positive and negative feedback; it offers a chance to have a dialogue about the issues the teachers have suggested in the survey.”
Dr. Johnson said she had requested to see a copy of the survey and was looking forward to examining both its results and how it was framed.
“For me to look at only bits and pieces of the survey and come to any kind of logical conclusion about it would be impossible,” the superintendent said.
She said she wanted to look at the types of questions that were asked, how they were asked and in how many different ways and who took part in the survey.
She also had some questions about the timing of the survey.
“The schools can be a rumor-filled climate,” she said. “I’ve been in education for 38 years. I’m sure if a survey was done during mid-year budget cuts the response would be negative.”
Mr. Simmons said he considered the union’s decision to release the results of the survey to the press before discussing them with Dr. Johnson was evidence that their motives were purely antagonistic.
“If the union wanted to have a constructive conversation, they would have discussed their concerns with the superintendent before [discussing them with] local newspapers,” he said.
When asked why he did not take the opportunity to discuss results when approached in January, he said it was more appropriate for the principals and the superintendent to have those conversations.
“Teachers report to principals who report to the superintendent who reports to the school committee,” he said. “If you have a concern at work, do you go directly to the board of directors without discussing it with your supervisor?”
He added that discussion would not be appropriate as the school committee is currently in contract negotiations with the teachers’ union.
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