Rein on school survey

The Baltimore Sun

Members of the Howard County school system's largest employee union have been instructed not to reveal results of an annual job satisfaction survey to administrators until leaders devise a strategy they hope will force top officials to improve working conditions at some schools.

Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, said her organization's board of directors will meet March 3 to discuss the best way to share the results with the administration.

"We need to formulate a strategy," DeLacy told a room of HCEA representatives from all schools during a meeting Tuesday.

The union contends that school system officials have consistently ignored the results of past job satisfaction surveys and failed to address schools with poor morale.

"The numbers have been low for a very long time," DeLacy said.

A record number of teachers completed the 2008-2009 survey, said DeLacy, whose organization has been conducting the survey for more than two decades. Of the 5,021 employees the union represents, 3,671 completed the 29-question survey, which was distributed in December to support professionals, teachers, guidance counselors, instructional assistants, nurses, social workers and cafeteria workers.

Last year, 2,835 employees completed the survey. Overall, there are 7,860 employees and 48,918 students in the school system.

In some aspects, the results reflected favorably on the school system. The survey shows that a large majority of employees have confidence in the leadership exhibited by the superintendent (86.6 percent) and the school board (82.3 percent). HCEA members were given the results Tuesday so that they could review the data before the system's March 1 employee transfer deadline, DeLacy said.

For individual schools, survey results ran the spectrum. At Hammond Elementary in Laurel and Ilchester Elementary in Ellicott City, 100 percent of the respondents agreed that morale is good. Bollman Bridge in Jessup (39 percent) and Northfield in Ellicott City (35 percent) recorded the lowest rankings for morale for elementary schools.

School system spokeswoman Patti Caplan said the school system values the feedback.

"We certainly do pay attention to the data that they provide us," she said. "It is one of numerous data sources that we look at."

The school system conducts its own version of a job satisfaction survey, called the Environment Survey, every two years, Caplan said. Those results are analyzed and distributed to employees, she said. The next Environment Survey will be administered in 2010.

In addition to its own survey, the school system will review data from the Teaching, Empowerment, Leading and Learning (TELL) Maryland Survey, which is being conducted online through Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration.

Caplan disputed the union claim that the school system ignores the results of the job satisfaction survey.

"A lot of time, people assume that just because they haven't seen what people consider responsive, doesn't mean there hasn't been some action," Caplan said. "We can't look at just one piece of information. There is lots of consideration that goes into responding to any type of data. If we didn't want to listen to our teachers, than the superintendent would not go out and have his candid conversations with his school staff; it allows them to speak about their concerns."

Some HCEA members who attended Tuesday's meeting stressed the importance of their organization's survey.

"It gives the [administration] a chance to do some self-reflection," said Laura Mynaugh, a kindergarten teacher at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary. "It's a resource for communication with teachers and administrators."

Triadelphia Ridge ranked in the top half of the 40 elementary schools in the county system for overall morale, open communication and the ability to speak openly without fear of repercussion.

"We definitely have some strengths," Mynaugh said. "But we have a couple areas that need improvement."

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