HARVARD -- How are you doing?

That's the gist of the Hildreth Elementary School (HES) climate survey. The results of the 2012 staff survey were shared with the Harvard School Committee on Sept. 10. There was marked improvement in several areas.

The Harvard "climate survey" was born following the 2008 launch of a similarly inquisitive statewide survey of licensed school-based educators conducted every four years called the Massachusetts Teaching, Learning, and Leading Survey (TeLLS) initiative (www.tellmass.org).

The TeLLS survey was conducted this past spring. Locally, the Harvard climate survey gauging staff and parents at each school has become an annual effort. Learning assistants, Special Education specialists and 24 classroom teachers take the local climate survey.

"There were issues to work on," said HES School Council member Mary Traphagen. The surveys have become "a catalyst for change."

Since the survey's launch, there have been three HES principals -- Mary Beth Banios left for a new job in 2010, Interim Principal Suzanne Mahoney served from 2010-2011 and Dr. Linda Dwight is entering her second school year leading HES.

"There is so much to celebrate," said Traphagen of the results. School/family relationships and parent involvement clocked higher scores -- 82 percent of staff feels there is a mutual respect between staff and parents.


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Eighty-eight percent of staff agrees with the statement, "I feel supported by parents."

"It's really nice to see that," said Traphagen. Meanwhile, the HES School Council has become "more visible" with a role "known and appreciated." Whereas only 68 percent of staff understood the council's role last year, there's 91 percent awareness of the council now. Ninety four percent of the staff agrees that HES School Council is effective (up from 78 percent in agreement last year).

GOING UP

Dwight noted quantum leaps on "school leadership." Ninety-four percent agree that structures and processes are in place allowing teachers to be involved in school-wide decisions and policies (up from 59 percent last year). Ninety-four percent agree they're included in collaborative decision making and problem solving on instructional issues (up from 62 percent last year).

Improvements in school collegiality and professionalism were "areas we celebrated with the staff," said Dwight. Previously staff "meetings did not go well."

Newly-established norms lay out "expected behavior you'd want everyone to use," said Dwight. Borrowing a page from their lesson books, the staff adopted the district-wide deployed 16-point "Habits of Mind" (HOM) curriculum which focuses on problem-solving and life skills.

Satisfaction levels soared on collegiality and professionalism. Ninety-four percent agreed there were "authentic interactions that are professional in nature" (up from 60 percent last year).

Ninety-four percent of respondents agree there are now "norms for conduct that foster collegiality and professionalism" (up from 48 percent last year).

Eighty-four percent of teachers agree they have an avenue to voice concerns (up from 54 percent last year); 84 percent agree that process is "fair and effective" (up from 54 percent a year ago).

Seventy-four percent believe the staff is "open to change" (up from 44 percent last year); Seventy six percent report an atmosphere of "mutual trust and respect among all staff members (up from 38 percent last year).

There's a $362,000 phased-in technology overhaul afoot in the district. There is also a media and technology specialist on staff at HES. An arsenal of iPads was ordered in time for summer professional development opportunities on the effective use of the technology in class.

The climate survey coincided with the technology launch. Ninety-percent of respondents agreed that professional development has prepared them to use technology in class. Eighty-four percent agree that there is adequate technology support for staff in the building.

BUT

There are some lingering areas of concern, including school cleanliness and safety. Dwight noted that the survey was conducted before a sweeping summertime initiative launched this past summer by maintenance staff to prepare for fall. 

Safety issues were broken down this year into separate categories. Sixty-nine percent agree cafeteria behavior is property monitored, but only 44 percent agreed that proper hallway behavior is reinforced by staff, and 38 percent feel school assembly behavior is properly reinforced by other staff. Recess monitoring scored highest -- 73 percent -- in terms of satisfaction with the degree of staff support available to ensure proper student behavior.

With those findings, Dwight said a "common language" was developed for use school wide "so expectations can be that much higher."

Dwight was confident that staff scores for school cleanliness would have seen even greater improvement had the survey been conducted when students returned before Labor Day. Still, 58 percent of respondents report hallways are clean (up from 33 percent last year), 42 percent agree classrooms are spiffier (up from 28 percent last year), and 58 percent agree there is an effective methodology for keeping the school clean (up from 16 percent last year).

Results held steady regarding the cleanliness of the cafeteria and gym (mid- to upper 60 percent range), the library (upper 70s and low 80s), and the teachers' lounge (steady at 63 percent satisfaction).

Bathrooms remain a sore spot --only 33 percent agree they're in good shape. Likewise, only 33 percent are satisfied with the heating and air conditioning system.

Eighty eight percent feel personal effects and school equipment are safe and secure (up from 63 percent agreement last year). Building security is highly regarded (91 percent satisfaction) as is playground security (84 percent satisfaction). However, fewer -- 61 percent -- felt the parking lot and driveway were secure.

In terms of entry into the building, only 33 percent said security measures were adequate last year. That's leapt thanks to a renewed focus on the issue and a front door security system. Ninety seven percent of staff agrees that the Main Entrance is secure while the North, Kindergarten and Cafeteria entrances feel secure to 81-85 percent of respondents.

How much of the school day is devoted to learning? Not enough say most. Only 39 percent of staff agrees they have enough time to devote to "essential content".

Dwight said the approach of state-mandated Common Core standards next year are making people feel "there's that much more to cover in the same time constraints."

"As they become more comfortable, that will improve," said Dwight. Second recess was dropped, eliminating a disruptive "transition period" and thereby allowing teachers to "use time more efficiently so there's more time for learning."

Eighty-seven percent of staff agree that they receive timely feedback on their students' specific knowledge levels and skill sets. Eighty eight percent agree that teachers have been briefed adequately on the "essential content" to be taught to students, but only 65 percent agree the content is well organized and sequenced to provide students "ample opportunity to learn it."

School Committee Chair SusanMary Redinger was impressed with the data load. "I have 'wow' written at least 5-7 times here." She praised the HES School Council and staff for its "phenomenal work."

"The teachers wanted this," said Dwight. "They worked really hard to make the change. It's not one person. It's everybody."

"This really defines what is next and what's needed -- just amazing," said Redinger.

School Committee member Kirsten Wright toured the school before the return to class with Assistant Principal Gretchen Henry. "I could not believe how much energy teachers and custodians put into putting splashes of color" into the environment. The computer lab is clean and neat "and the kids just want to go in there." Wright thanked the teachers, custodians and parents for "all that positive energy put into preparing the space."

"It is important to celebrate the improvements," said Traphagen, who patted Dwight's back. "It is in large part from her."

Targeted instruction blocks are gone, and students who need added support receive those services right in the classroom.