NH Public Schools Improve Learning Environments, Survey Shows

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Christopher Hoffman
Most New Haven public schools – 37 of 39 – improved their learning environments compared to last year, with Brennan-Rogers School and other schools showing strong gains, according to the district’s 2010-11 School Learning Environment survey.
Overall learning environments at two schools remained the same as last year even as they registered significant improvement in certain areas.
A full comparison with last year’s survey is impossible at five schools because of insufficient parent participation, but all showed improvement in key areas.
Parents, teachers, students and staff had mostly good things to say about their respective schools, responding “agree” or “strongly agree” to most of survey’s questions. No school received an overall grade of “dissatisfied,” while 38 of 39 scored “satisfied” or “highly satisfied.”
A total of 15,808 teachers, parents, students and staff responded to the survey. The district saw a significant increase in parental responses, 31 percent compared to 23 percent last year. The response rate for students was 88 percent; teachers, 76 percent; and staff, 46 percent.
Strong learning environments provide the basis for academic improvement. Improving school climate is a major goal of the district’s School Change reforms.
“I am thrilled that educators, parents and students in so many schools have worked hard together to strengthen academic expectations, collaboration and other aspects of the school climate,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo said. “A welcoming learning climate is a prerequisite for academic success. These results show that many of our schools are headed in the right direction, and they also show areas where schools can continue to improve. All of us working together will plant the seeds of achievement.”
The School Learning Environment Survey asked New Haven public school teachers, parents, grade 5-to-12 students and staff 94 questions grouped into five categories:
·         Their school’s academic expectations;
·         How well their school communicates, collaborates and engages with them;
·         The degree of safety and respectfulness at their school.
            To assure confidentiality, the district’s contracted with the Children’s Institute of Rochester to collect and tabulate survey responses.
Results are shared with school staffs and used to improve each school’s learning climate. The surveys are one of the factors used to rank schools into tiers each year and to evaluate principals. Many principals use the surveys to set performance goals for themselves and their schools.
Among all schools, Brennan-Rogers showed the biggest improvement, with increases in all five categories among all groups. The school also had the district’s highest parental survey participation rate, 81 percent.
The school system designated Brennan-Rogers a turnaround school this year. Under School Change, the district intervenes aggressively in turnaround schools to improve academic performance and learning climate. At the start of 2010-11, Principal Karen Lott reconstituted the school’s staff and changed work rules.
“Everyone – teachers, students, parents and staff – worked so hard this year to improve Brennan-Rogers, and the survey results confirm real progress,” Lott said. “I’m so proud of the Brennan-Rogers community for pulling together. We will not rest on our laurels. We will strive to build on this foundation, seeking even greater improvements.”
Many other K-8 schools significantly improved their school climates this year, including Barnard Environmental Studies School, Fair Haven School, Hill Central School and John Martinez School. High schools seeing improved learning climates included Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School (Coop), Sound School and Metropolitan Business Academy.
Although not enough parents participated in the survey last year to make the overall scores directly comparable, the climates at the transitional programs of New Horizons, Polly McCabe and Riverside also improved.
“We were very focused on our climate this year,” Coop Principal Dr. Lola Garcia Blocker said.  “We had committees of teachers, parents, students and staff working on each part of the school climate, and it’s gratifying to see that work pay off.”
 Wilbur Cross High School’s learning environment remained unchanged, but with a new principal in place the school saw improvements in key climate areas.  Compared to last year, more students say they care about their school, are treated fairly, feel safe, have teachers that inspire them to learn and overall feel good about the school.
The percentage of Wilbur Cross teachers who say that administrators invite teachers to play a meaningful role in setting goals and making decisions nearly doubled to 42 percent. Compared to last year, significantly more Wilbur Cross teachers say the school has high academic expectations for all students and administrators encourage them to collaborate to increase student learning.
 Science and Engineering University Magnet School (ESUMS) also saw its learning environment remain the same as last year. The school had one of the strongest learning climates last year. ESUMS faced challenges this year when its principal departed mid-year.
However, more students – 95 percent – said their teachers believe they can learn and inspire them to learn. The school also registered gains in students who care about the school and say they were treated fairly
Parents at the school saw an improvement in how well the school communicates with them.
Click for Full Survey Results