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Surveys find Harford teachers satisfied with their schools, students say they work hard

Harford County educators reported greater satisfaction in a majority of areas related to their profession, according to the results of a statewide survey, even though fewer teachers and teacher support staffers participated than did two years ago.

Leann Schubert, coordinator of school improvement and intervention for Harford County Public Schools, presented the results of the state's TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) survey to the members of the Board of Education on Oct. 14.

"Overall, we're thrilled to share with you that in 2013 over 80 percent of the survey respondents to the TELL survey agreed that 'my school is a good place to work and learn,'" Schubert said.

In a separate, school system-based survey, Harford students say they work hard in school but think the temperature inside their school buildings needs adjusting.

Teacher survey

Schubert said 78.8 percent of Harford County's educators responded, compared to 80.38 percent in 2011.

The survey of educators in Maryland's 24 public school districts was created through Gov. Martin O'Malley's office in 2009 and administered that year, as well as in 2011 and 2013.

Schubert said "school-based instructional staff," such as teachers and educational support personnel, participated in the 2013 survey from Feb. 4 to March 1.

She said the survey was "Web-based, completely voluntary and completely anonymous."

Schubert noted 15 of Harford County's 56 schools had a 100 percent response rate, and all but one achieved a response rate of more than 50 percent.

The information was released by the governor's office in May and shared with schools where more than 50 percent responded.

"All Harford County public schools have been asked to review the TELL survey data and consider areas to include in their school year 13-14 school improvement plans," Schubert said.

She said the plans were recently submitted to the school system's central office and are being reviewed.

Schubert said the results of the survey are not shared with schools that had a response rate of less than 50 percent because "it removes the anonymity from the survey."

Instructors and support staff were asked their views on the topics of Time, Facilities and Resources, Community Support and Involvement, Managing Student Conduct, Teacher Leadership, School Leadership, Professional Development, Instructional Practices and Support and Overall satisfaction.

Schubert reported that 68.8 percent of educators said they could "focus on educating students with minimal interruptions, compared to 63.9 percent in 2011.

Nearly 84 percent, 83.7 percent, said the Internet connections in their schools were "sufficient to support instructional practices," compared to 78.5 percent for 2011.

The percentage of educators who felt their schools had a "sufficient number of ESPs [educational support personnel] to operate effectively" dropped from 62.4 percent to 53.3 percent.

Schubert said about two thirds of educators, or 66.6 percent, agreed that "professional development deepens teachers' content knowledge," compared to 60.9 percent in 2011.

She also reported that 58 percent agreed that "professional development is differentiated to meet the needs of individual teachers," compared to 54.9 percent two years ago.

Schubert told board members that the percentage has increased, but "we feel that this is an area that needs further consideration."

"Overall, we're thrilled to share with you that in 2013 over 80 percent of the survey respondents to the TELL survey agreed that 'my school is a good place to work and learn,' " Schubert said.

The full results can be found online at http://www.tellmaryland.org.

Student Motivation Survey

At the same Oct. 14 school board meeting, Phil Snyder, supervisor of accountability, presented the results of the Student Motivation Survey for the 2012-2013 school year.

The survey was administered in April for students in grades K-11.

Snyder said more than 30,000 surveys came in, with a more than 90 percent response rate.

The results were broken down into three groups: grades K-2, grades 3-5 and grades 6-11.

For the K-2 group, Snyder said about 95 percent of children said they could learn when they tried; 95 percent also said they were treated fairly by their teachers and about 94 percent said they can try harder when they are having trouble.

He said 65 percent stated their classroom is quiet enough "to think and work," about 74 percent said the temperature in their school is comfortable and 81 percent talk to their families about what they are learning about in school.

In grades 3-5, 94 percent of children reported they work hard in school and 94 percent said they have to work hard and think hard, plus about 93 percent said they thought administrators treated them fairly.

On the lower end, about 54 percent said the temperature of their schools is comfortable, 58.4 percent thought their school work was interesting and exciting; about 65 percent took part in clubs and activities.

Regarding the middle and high school students, 91.4 percent said they come to school regularly, 89 percent said their teachers believe they can learn and about 85 percent said their teachers have high expectations of them, Snyder said.

Only about 35 percent felt their schools' temperature was comfortable; about 36 percent spent time outside school studying and reading and 42.1 percent participate in clubs and activities.

Board response

Board member Robert Frisch noted "there seems to be a pattern of concern regarding professional development."

He asked if it was "the result of the budget issues we have faced in the past few years where we have slashed our professional development budget to meet the budgetary constraints."

Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan said professional development spending has been cut by 50 percent during the past three years.

Canavan said she would need to look at each school, however, because professional development resources vary from school to school.

Educators also gave high marks on many of the professional development questions, such as 85.4 percent agreeing that "sufficient resources are available for professional development in my school," and 91.4 percent agreeing that "professional learning opportunities are aligned with the school's improvement plan."

The interim superintendent said school officials "are really targeting in on the TELL survey and the Student Motivation Survey," and other forms of data such as test scores, and resources such as professional development and school improvement funds, plus extensive dialogue with staff and students, to improve schools.

"We're hoping that this is going to start to open up dialogues and help us out, to really realize why these numbers look the way they do and how we can improve them," Canavan said.

School board student representative Ben Barsam highlighted the low percentages on the student survey regarding participation in clubs and activities, noting the implementation of a $25 activity fee this year.

He asked if school system officials planned to conduct research on that matter for next year's survey.

Snyder said he planned to get officials together to review the items on the survey.

"If this is the boards' intention, to keep that [activity] item as is, we can certainly do that," he said.

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