Attitudes of teachers, students, and families are on a general downward trend, according to results of a survey shared with the Henry County School Board last week. The school community engagement feedback survey, distributed to students, staff, and families in the spring, reflected declines in satisfaction, particularly among school staff.
Henry County Public Schools (HCPS) Communications Director Monica Hatchett said one hypothesis for the decline in many of the scores was “it’s been a very difficult transition over the course of this school year.” Additionally, “a lot of times, we see people who are completely 100 percent satisfied don’t take the time to do a survey.”
She noted that fewer teachers took time to respond to this year’s survey. While student participation was nearly level over last school year and family participation increased, the number of staff who took the time to respond to the survey declined from the 2020-2021 academic year.
According to the survey data shared with the board by Hatchett, only 72 percent of staff who responded to the survey agreed that they feel appreciated for the work that they do. This was a marked decline from last year’s 97 percent and was, in fact, the lowest satisfaction rate across the four academic years of data shared by Hatchett.
“To be very transparent,” Hatchett said, “in the past we thought that might be tied to salary. However, we know that the climate in our world and the way our world has viewed and treated teachers in the last year may have contributed to the decrease in their response rate this year. Certainly, we are excited to provide them with an additional raise this year, but obviously money is not everything, and so this was a signal to us that we need to consider other possible contributors to that answer for our staff members.”
Another of the most notable declines in staff responses was to the statement, “The division office actively seeks input from a diverse group of employees regarding decisions that affect staff.” In the 2020-2021 school year, the division received a 96 percent positive response to that statement. Just one year later, that number dropped to 74 percent, the lowest it has been in the four years of survey data shared by Hatchett.
“Obviously, there is some concern about the drop from last year to this year,” Hatchett said. “We have continued this year with our parent cabinet, student cabinet, teacher cabinet, and support staff cabinet. We issue surveys, we ask principals to get feedback, we work with our mentors to talk to new teachers, so we’re going to continue to explore why that difference might have taken place this particular year.”
Yet another decline occurred this year when staff were asked if meeting the needs of students is one of the division’s top priorities. Last year, 98 percent of staff who responded to that question responded positively. This year, that number dropped to only 87 percent, marking an 11 percent decline after three successive years of increasingly positive responses.
“Division office administrators have high expectations for all staff” also received a slightly decreased percent positive response among school staffers this year, dropping from 97 to 93 percent. Only 87 percent of the staff who responded felt that the division office provides clear direction and expectations to employees, down from last year’s 96 percent.
Of those staff who responded, 81 percent felt that professional learning offered by the division helped them be effective in their jobs, down from 96 percent last school year and on par with the responses from the 2018-2019 academic year. Eighty percent of staff respondents felt their school was well-maintained, down from 97 percent last year.
A whopping 99 percent of staff who responded to the survey said they were aware of the safety and security procedures at their workplace, a number which has remained consistent over the last four academic years. Hatchett noted that staff being aware of safety procedures “is one of the questions that is very important to us. We talk very seriously with our staff about public and private ways that we want to keep them and our students and anyone else who visits our buildings every single day as safe as we possibly can, so our team is very proud to see that remain consistent.”
Of those who responded, 90 percent of school staff said they felt safe at their workplace, a slight drop from last year’s 95 percent.
Of the students who responded to the survey, only 69 percent agreed that they felt safe at school, a decline from last year’s 79 percent. The 2018-2019 school year had the highest positive response rate to the safety issue of the four years of data presented, with 92 percent of student respondents saying they felt safe in their school. Of the families who responded this year, 84 percent agreed that the school provides a safe place for their children, down from 92 percent over last year.
Hatchett said, “it is important to note that staff members and students view safety differently.” Most adults, she noted, look at materials and procedures related to safety. “It’s important to note that our students don’t always know about every single one of those (procedures) because we like to make sure that their privacy is protected.”
Further, she said, “safe at school for a student may be related to things other than physical safety, so we take that into account when we consider their answer.”
Regarding the lower positive response rate from families, Hatchett said that some families have continued to express concerns related to the pandemic, which she suggested could factor into their feelings about overall school safety.
Overall, 87 percent of school staff who responded to the survey said they would feel comfortable referring a good friend to work for the school division, down from 97 percent last year. And 92 percent of staff said they were proud to work for the school division, a slight drop from the 97 percent who felt that way in the past two school years.
Students were overall more satisfied with their school experience, responding with higher positivity rates than staff but still reflecting declines in satisfaction over previous years. Hatchett noted that not all students have the opportunity to respond to the survey each year. Rather, it is distributed to students in grades 5, 8, and 12.
Of those students who responded to this year’s survey, 83 percent said they felt their classes were preparing them to do well in the next grade or after graduation while 65 percent of student respondents said they felt their classes were teaching them skills they needed to be successful in life outside of school. That figure was up slightly from 2020-2021, in which only 63 percent of students responded positively to the question, itself a steep decrease from the 84 percent of the 2019-2020 academic year.
The past four years has seen a continuous decline in the number of students who feel their teachers care about how they are doing. In the 2018-2019 school year, 91 percent of students felt their teachers cared. This year, only 81 percent responded positively to that question.
Fifty-five percent of students who responded said that they were satisfied with their experience at school this year. Last year, only 46 percent of students responded positively to that statement, though both numbers are still a sharp decline from the 2019-2020 school year’s 72 percent. “There’s been a lot of change and a lot of re-learning, re-acclimation that has had to occur,” Hatchett noted of the last school year.
Of the families who responded to the survey, 86 percent agreed that the school provides the necessary support their child needs, only a 2 percent decrease from last year’s 88 percent. However, only 71 percent said they were satisfied with the opportunities available for them to be involved in their child’s education. Though that number was up from last year’s 69 percent, both are significantly less than the 82 percent positive response rate garnered in the 2019-2020 school year. Asked if they felt well-informed about school and division-wide learning opportunities, 83 percent of families responded positively, up from 82 percent last year and near the four-year high of 88 percent in the 2019-2020 year.
Eighty-seven percent of families felt the schools were teaching their children what they needed to know to be successful, keeping steady the responses to that question over the last four years.
Hatchett told the board that the survey began a decade ago and that, each year, the division’s strategic planning teams work collaboratively to look at the questions related to their particular area of focus to see if any changes or updates to the wording need to be made.
She said that, previously, staff, families, and students had been offered a “neutral” option for each question, but that is being phased out as “we felt like we weren’t getting true data.” The option has already been removed from surveys for staff and families and will likely not appear on student surveys next year, she said. “We want to know, do you agree or disagree” with the questions being asked. Neutral responses, she noted, are not factored into the percent positive responses.
For example, Hatchett pointed out that, this year, there was a 20 percent neutral response among students regarding whether or not they felt their classes were teaching them they skills they needed to be successful outside of school. If that number was added to the positive responses, they would reach an 85 percent satisfaction rate, rather than the recorded 65 percent.
To view the complete survey responses, visit www.henry.k12.va.us. The link to the survey is included in the online agenda for the July 14 board meeting, found under the School Board tab.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard from track coach Kevin Underwood, who several meetings ago told the board that the conditions at the Bassett High School track is causing injuries to athletes. Last Thursday, he told the board that he would be willing to relinquish one of his additional pay stipends to help cover the cost of a new track.
*Heard from Director of Human Resources Christy Landon about proposed revisions to school board policies. The policies will be presented to the board for approval at its Aug. 4 meeting.
*Approved an amount not to exceed $200,000 to ABH Staffing (Ameristaff), ABM, and Abacus Staffing for temporary staffing or direct hire staffing fees to fill positions the division is otherwise unable to fill.
*Awarded a contract in the amount of $240,750 from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (CSLFRF) to Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates for professional A&E services for new HVAC equipment at Laurel Park Middle School.
*Approved the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budget, with changes to reflect a decrease in expected state funding. The board initially approved a total budget request in the amount of $102,422,358, which also was approved by the Board of Supervisors. On June 24, the division learned state funding would be decreased by $1,204,561 from the original introduced state budget.
Dr. David Scott, assistant superintendent for operations and administrative services, told the board that the division’s budget was amended to decrease the facilities category by $773,914 and the instruction category by $430,647 to reconcile the budget with the decreased funding from the state. That brings the total budget request for the fiscal year to $101,217,797, including $18,712,619 in local funding.