School climate survey debated

by Abby Lynn Harvey of The Review staff

ELKHART LAKE – How to best administer a survey which would measure the perceptions of the district was discussed in length at a Monday evening meeting of the Elkhart Lake School Board.

“The way I understood it is the board wanted a climate survey of staff students and parents, and we were also talking that we would like to go into the community,” said district administer Ann Buechel-Haack. “At that point when I talked to Bill Fosters from School Perceptions he said … a survey you do for your community isn’t really a climate survey because your community is not in your school.”

She went on to explain that Foster suggested that such a survey was not relevant and a better path to take with such a survey would be to complete a survey of students, staff and teachers, who have a more direct relationship with the school.

“His recommendation was to do your climate survey with those three groups this spring,” she said. “We can take some of the information we learn from the students, the staff and the parents, share that with our community, and if we want to have thoughts about our community vision – or if we go to a referendum – then look to do (survey) in the fall and involve the community at that point.”

Buechel-Haack had developed a list of questions that she believed the board would like answered by the survey, they are:

What are we doing well?

Where do we need to improve?

Where do we need to adjust and focus more resources?

What are our highest priorities?

The validity of an internal survey was questioned by some board members who wanted to know why families who had used open enrollment in a different distinct to leave the EL-G district were not being surveyed.

“My only concern is that, from the little bit of information that I’ve had, is that most climate surveys are overly positive for every school that’s ever done them when it’s done internally like that,” said board member Scott Heinig.

He went on to state that if anyone were to be unhappy with the district they likely wouldn’t remain at the district.

“The parents continue to send their children, they must be relatively happy with what’s going on, the staff is here so they’re evidently happy with what’s going on or they have the ability to opt out and the students again have the option to opt out or they can be discussing their concerns with their parents who should then be contacting staff,” he said. “So seldom have I seen any results on these surveys that say your school is doing poorly and thus school’s have been slow to change or adapt because they don’t get a lot of varied feedback.”

Buechel-Haack had stated previously that the recommendation from Foster was to contact students who leave the district directly, which is the district’s policy at this point.

She also stated that she expected a positive response because the district, in her opinion, is doing well. She explained that she felt a survey would help the district decide where their priorities should be based on the results.

“It also helps you pinpoint resources and how important we think - some of the board – that technology and getting that in the kid’s hands is important,” she said, “maybe to the parents it’s more important to have small class sizes than technology and those are some of the questions you as a board want.”

The survey would however include students who used open enrollment to enter the district.

“If you look at the one’s who enrolled out,” she went on, “we know that half of them enrolled out to go to the parochial school if it weren’t for the parochial school we’d probably be balanced out with who’s going out and who’s coming in. And for some of the reasons that people are going out we also have people coming in for those same reasons.”

Bullying was used as an example for her last point. She stated that some students leave EL-G because they are being bullied, while other come into EL-G from other districts because of bullying there.

“I’m not minimizing it, but that’s a very common one,” she said.

Trustee Joel Schuler explained that he would like to have more feedback from alumni. This, he said, would be a good indication of how well the school is preparing students for life after school, be that entering college or the work force.

“That’s the really important question, how well do they feel they were prepared once they’d been out in the world for a year,” he said.

It was stated that those surveys are conducted but with little response. Schuler would like work put into getting more feedback on these sort of surveys.

Also announced at the meeting was the resignation of Scott Starnitky. The district is searching for an appointment for that position. This would be a board-appointed position for one year, ending in April 2015. Any interested parties are requested to submit their name, brief background, and rationale for applying to the District office by Wednesday, April 9. Any questions can be directed to Dr. Ann Buechel Haack, District Administrator (876-3381), or Jim Henschel, Board President (980-1949).

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