Survey Identifies Strengths, Weaknesses In Bourne’s 'Educational Climate'
By: Michael J. Rausch
“We have some work ahead of us.”
That was the reaction from Bourne School Superintendent Steven M. LaMarche to the results of a survey designed to shed light on what Bourne Public Schools are doing well, and what they need to improve, to better the educational experience for students, staff and the entire community.
Mr. LaMarche said when he was appointed superintendent last year, he and the relatively new Bourne School Committee wanted to get a sense of the educational environment in the Bourne Public School District. Mr. LaMarche says the idea for the Bourne School Committee’s Climate and Culture assessment survey was initiated by committee Chairman Matthew B. Stuck and two other members.
“They wanted to establish,” Mr. LaMarche explained, “a look-see or a way of looking at what the climate and culture is like in Bourne public schools because they had a sense that it wasn’t healthy.”
Mr. Stuck said there was a sense of uncertainty within the Bourne Public School District with the election of five new members to the school committee, as well as Mr. LaMarche’s appointment.
“There is also a high teacher turnover rate in Bourne,” Mr. Stuck said, “so there were many things that led to questions about the culture and climate in the Bourne Public Schools.”
The school committee subsequently created an ad hoc committee to look at the district. That committee comprises Mr. Stuck; school committee secretary Anne Marie Siroonian; school committee member David B. Harrison; Susan Quick, assistant superintendent for learning and teaching in Bourne Public Schools; and Catherine A. Lyons, 5th grade teacher at Bourne Middle School.
The group drafted a survey that was sent out near the end of the last school year. The results of that survey were presented to the Bourne School Committee earlier this month.
The survey focused on environment, communication and collaboration within the Bourne Public School District. The goal, according to the committee was to determine if, collectively, Bourne schools are advancing a variety of strategies to ensure academic success is encouraged, shared and celebrated.
Respondents were asked if they believed Bourne schools work together to share information and solve problems, and if the district gives people a sense of being connected to the schools and that school officials value their input and participation.
The survey was handed out to students, staff, parents, and other members of the community. Among the elementary schools, only 4th grade students at the Bournedale and Peebles Elementary schools were surveyed. Students in all grades at both Bourne Middle School and Bourne High School were canvassed.
The committee received 100 percent participation from Bournedale, 64 percent participation from Peebles, 46 percent participation from BMS and 40 percent participation from BHS, for a total of 1,036 student responses. Only 73 of 305 staff members answered the survey. No figures were made available as to how many parents responded.
Results of the survey were encouraging for the schools on an individual basis. Among all the students who answered the survey, 75 percent said the schools provide a positive environment for growing and learning. Better than 50 percent of teachers agreed with that assessment, while 60 percent to 70 percent of parents also gave a thumbs up to the atmosphere at the schools.
According to the survey, students said they would like to see more volunteer and outreach programs, fundraisers, after-school activities and mentoring programs.
Many students said they would also like to see a greater use of technology in the classroom. For example, more SmartBoards. Teachers echoed that sentiment, calling for a technology educator and technology upgrades, as well.
Problems come in when teachers and parents were asked for their evaluation of the culture within the Bourne Public School District, as a whole. A full 40 percent of the teachers said the culture is “unpredictable and perpetuating tension and stress.” Among parents who answered, 30 percent also felt the district was “unpredictable” and “people tend to work in isolation.” While the vast majority of teachers, 73 percent, agree there is frequent and open communication among the schools, staff are split down the middle, 50-50, as to whether the schools work in tandem in the best interests of the students.
For Mr. LeMarche, those numbers say to him there may be a perception of assumption that people working outside the school district do not understand or appreciate the efforts made by those working on the inside to “make this work, this machine, continue to move forward.”
He said the survey shows him, and should show the public at large, that everyone in the Bourne community, whether they work in or out of the public school system, need to understand that they are all in the same boat and on the same page. “The external and the internal are not two separate worlds. It’s actually one world and we need to figure out how it all fits together.”
The low number of staff responses was disappointing to Mr. LaMarche, who said some teachers may have opted not to fill out the survey because they questioned whether doing so would have a positive effect on their work environment. Others, he said, might not have even been aware of the survey.
Despite the low response from staff members, Mr. LaMarche said he wants those who did fill out the survey to understand that their responses are valued by school officials. “We want more people because we want this to evolve to useful information that we can use,” Mr. LaMarche said.
Mr. Stuck echoed the sentiments of the superintendent, saying the survey tells him that there are a lot of things Bourne schools do well, including getting students excited and involved in their classes. Mr. Stuck does recognize, however, there are things that need improvement. He specifically mentioned taking advantage of opportunities to improve the use of technology in the schools, engaging parents more in the classrooms, and re-aligning the curriculum so that classroom material is not repeated from one year to the next.
The committee meets again on November 7 and plans to examine the data compiled in this initial survey, post it on the Bourne Public Schools website, and put out a new survey, likely in April or May. The committee’s hope is for a greater, wider response from the community, and committee members want everyone to know that their opinion is valued. “We want community input,” Mr. LaMarche said, “because as you know, the schools are the heartbeat of the community.”
“We’re not giving up,” Mr. Stuck said, “we are invested, and we have found things that will change the district.”