That’s according to an anonymous, online, first-of-a-kind survey on school culture and principal leadership conducted by BISD Superintendent Dr. Sue Thomas.
The survey asked 26 questions; three asked for comments. Of 251 teachers contacted, 65 percent responded.
The breakdown, according to the school:
A.C. Jones High School — 35
Moreno Middle School — 29
R.A. Hall and F.M.C. — 28
Thomas Jefferson — 24
H.M.D. — 19
“Only about half of the teachers at the high school responded,” Thomas told the board members at their regular meeting June 17. “And, it was a really quick survey.”
Sixty percent of the teachers said the BISD administration gives them adequate support.
Eighty-one percent said teachers are willing to help out whenever there is a problem.
However, only 51 percent said that teachers are involved in making decisions.
Sixty-seven percent replied that teachers and parents frequently communicate about student performance.
Fifty-nine percent say that school leaders support risk taking and innovation in teaching.
Eighty-three percent say the faculty values school improvement.
Sixty-four percent replied that school leaders take time to praise teachers whose students perform well.
Seventy-five percent said teachers create lessons that increase student engagement.
Sixty-eight percent said their principal commands respect from everyone on the faculty.
Sixty-two percent said their principal promotes faculty teamwork.
Seventy-one percent said their principal insists on only the best performance from the faculty.
While generally pleased with the response, Thomas admitted she was surprised with the answers about school safety. Only 50 percent agreed that they work in a safe work environment.
“Twenty-two percent were neutral,” Thomas told the board. “I don’t know how you can be neutral on school safety.”
Concurrent with the survey is safety work on all campuses to improve safety, part of a $712,000 upgrade the board approved last year.
Principals received a copy of the survey pertaining to their campus, Thomas said, including the answers to three open-ended questions:
•What is the purpose of homework?
•Should teacher evaluation be tied to student learning to a certain degree?
•What improvements would you like to see on our campus?
Thomas supplied a book with the answers for board members but withheld them from the public because some of the comments involved BISD personnel, which are discussed only in executive session.
“We had a lot of people who replied that they were neutral on a lot of the questions,” Thomas said. “That kind of goes with the negative part.”
As an example, Thomas cited a question that asked if teachers created lessons that increase student engagement.
Seventy-five percent of those who responded said they agreed or strongly agreed. Nineteen percent said they were neutral. “I would lump that 19 percent with the six percent who disagreed or strongly disagreed,” Thomas said. “I don’t know how you can be neutral on that question.”
Another example: “My principal excites faculty with visions of what we may accomplish if we work together as a team.”
Sixty-two percent agreed or strongly agreed, 22 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed. But, 16 percent said they were neutral.
“If you are neutral, that means you are negative,” Thomas told trustees. “To me, that’s what it means.”
The questions that generated the most neutral answers concerned whether a teacher’s principal “challenged me to re-examine some basic assumptions I have about my work in the school.”
Thirty-two percent said they were neutral.
“The principals will take these numbers and analyze them.”
Thomas then raised a philosophical question about homework.
“One of the open-ended questions was ‘The purpose of homework is?’ The majority of teachers said it was to reinforce what they taught in class. But, when you start talking to individual teachers about a failure rate in their class, they will say ‘because the students didn’t do their homework.’
“Well, these teachers just told me they thought the purpose of homework is for reinforcement; they didn’t think it was for major grades.”
Thomas said she wants principals to work with teachers to re-define the purpose of homework. “If homework is for reinforcement, then why are we giving failing grades for lack of homework?”
She also said that although the survey was anonymous, she felt some teachers may have been reluctant to take the survey for fear the administration had some way of finding out who responded.
However, she said, while the survey revealed some problems to be addressed, she felt the overall trend was positive.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.