Overall public perception of the district continues to increase despite a disparity between students and adults surveyed on other issues as part of Scottsdale Unified School District’s annual climate study.
Garrett Brann of Hanover Research presented the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board with the findings at its Jan. 7 meeting. Mr. Brann painted a picture of increasing positive public sentiment regarding numerous aspects of schools such as school environment, instructional climate, behavior and discipline, among others.
Mr. Brann said the study had more than 14,000 participants with almost 11,000 students (grades 4-12 only), 1,700 parents, 1,400 staff members and 115 community members opining. Hanover collected responses online from October to December this year.
Overall, the district saw a growth of 16-26 percentage points in overall approval of SUSD leaders compared to the previous year. It also saw increases of about 25 percentage points regarding participants’ views on school staffs’ community engagement.
“I think the significant growth in parent/community sense of engagement and their support of the overall direction of the district is significant because as we look at the other areas of need, if we didn’t have that sense that they’re with us, it would be much more difficult,” SUSD Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard said.
“So I was obviously quite delighted to see the recommendations when they first came out and the first one saying we grew significantly in trust.”
Mr. Brann brought forth five recommendations for the district to consider moving forward.
The first centered on maintaining the district’s course because perceptions of SUSD’s overall direction, leadership and parent/community engagement all increased from the last year.
The second was to better prioritize supports for under-achieving students and those with mental health challenges. Those surveyed were less likely to agree the district does enough to support those groups.
The third was to increase SUSD’s emphasis on developing students’ socio-economical skills, The study revealed half or less of respondents believe the district develops students’ abilities to empathize, resolve conflict and manage emotions.
The fourth was to continue to support school leaders as they combat bullying and harassment. The study showed an increase in incidents of bullying and harassment regarding physical appearance, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
About 39% of students in seventh grade or higher, parents and staff say another student verbally harassed them with 10% saying it has happened more than five times.
The last recommendation was for SUSD to investigate students’ perceptions regarding theft and violence. While participants agreed the district provides safe environments, over a quarter of students expressed concerns regarding theft and violence.
This disparity between students and parents/staff crept in on other questions with students answering less favorably than the other two categories.
An example of this manifested itself on the question about adults at each school caring about the students with 97% of staff and 87% of parents saying they do but 71% of students surveyed saying they agree.
Another big gulf emerged in responses regarding students’ attitudes toward learning as well as student outcomes such as preparedness for college or career. For the most part, the divide was between school staff and students.
“Given the results we are looking over, I think it does highlight the need to continue listening to students and even improving the methods we do so and their involvement in our district,” board member Jann-Michael Greenburg said.
“Hopefully, we live to serve them. There are some disparities in this data and that just further underscores that we continue with some of the work we have already done --- thanks to our board president and board vice president and many members around this table and many others not here --- but continue on that path and further integrate their views.”
Dr. Kriekard said the next steps involve plans to speak with students, through the student advisory board or other means, regarding the disparity.
He also said each school needs to assess its situation and identify its specific disparity between adults and students. He also emphasized several trainings will occur to help school staff and leaders, particularly in behavioral issues.
“We don’t want to train in a vacuum,” Dr. Kriekard said. “We want people to have a relevance to the training they are receiving to their school situation. We want that context so that they can begin to plan. So we assess, we plan, then we implement and then we assess again. It’s really circular.”