Survey Shows Mashpee Middle School Teachers’ High Confidence

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By: Elsa H. Partan
Published: 07/09/12

 Mashpee Middle School teachers have high praise for their school’s leadership, a sharp difference from how Mashpee High School teachers perceive their school administrators, according to the results of a statewide teacher survey.

The TELL Mass Survey (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning), which was funded through the state’s Race to the Top grant, is the first survey of teachers at schools across the state since 2008. The results show that teachers at Mashpee Middle School are delighted with many elements of their work environment. Areas that need improvement include family involvement, student conduct, and teacher influence on decision-making, according to the survey.

One hundred percent of the teachers at Mashpee Middle School agreed with the summary statement, “Overall, my school is a good place to work and learn,” as well as the statements “There is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in this school” and “Teachers are held to high professional standards for delivering instruction.”

Reacting to the survey, principal Sheila A. Arnold said she holds a very high opinion of her teachers.

“I have said it for the past two years, I will say it again,” she said. “I have a great staff that is willing to try new things. They know me as a colleague. I trust my teachers to do what is right, I respect their opinions, and it comes back to me two-fold.”

In contrast, 63.4 percent of teachers at Mashpee High School agreed that their school is overall a good place to work and learn. Slightly more than 26 percent agreed that there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in the school, and 64.3 percent said that teachers are held to high professional standards for delivering instruction.

The Enterprise first reported the Mashpee High School results on June 1 after obtaining an access code to the data. On Sunday, the statewide survey results were made public at tellmass.org. Mashpee High School Principal Jane A. Day was not available this week to discuss the survey results and did not respond to requests to discuss them when the Enterprise first reported them. Data from Quashnet School and Kenneth C. Coombs School surveys will be covered in a subsequent Enterprise article.

More than 42,400 educators responded to the survey statewide between March 12 and April 13, a more than 52 percent response rate. Approximately 63 percent of Mashpee School District teachers responded. According to the survey website, 50 percent of MMS teachers took the survey. Ms. Arnold said that figure is flawed.

“One hundred percent of our teachers, 16 teachers, responded to the survey,” she said, explaining that the state survey administrators erroneously counted MHS teachers who teach one course at MMS as middle school teachers.

Ms. Arnold taught grades 7 to 12 in Mashpee for five years beginning in 2000 before taking a job as an elementary school principal in New Bedford. She returned to Mashpee as an assistant principal at Quashnet School and MHS and accepted the top job at the middle school in July 2010.

Newly elected school committee member Phyllis A. Sprout said yesterday she has been impressed by Ms. Arnold’s ability to learn the names of all her students.

“That pays off huge dividends,” Ms. Sprout said. “Children have been very responsive to her.”

Reviewing the results of the survey, the MMS principal said she was pleased that 87.5 percent of her teachers agreed with the statement, “Teachers are encouraged to try new things to improve instruction.” That outcome was nearly identical to the state average for middle school teachers. Ms. Arnold was also happy that 93.8 percent of teachers agreed with the statement, “Teachers work in professional learning communities to develop and align instructional practices.” Statewide, 71.6 percent of middle school teachers agreed with the statement.

“Teachers have meetings to converse with one another and work in constructive ways,” Ms. Arnold said.

On the other hand, Ms. Arnold found room for improvement in the area of carving out time for teachers to meet. Seventy-five percent of teachers agreed with the statement, “Teachers have time available to meet with colleagues.” Although the figure was higher than the state average for middle school teachers, 59.3 percent, Ms. Arnold said she was not satisfied.

“It is very important to have time to meet,” she said. “In the last few meetings we did curriculum revisions and enhancements based on the common core standards. It is priceless. They also take that time to analyze the MCAS scores and develop assessments.”

Other areas of the survey cast a less flattering light on the middle school. Just 62.5 percent of teachers agreed with the statements “Students at this school follow rules of conduct” and “Teachers consistently enforce rules for student conduct.”

Both of these questions were at least six percentage points below the state average for middle school teachers.

“Any student on a given day can have an immature day,” Ms. Arnold said. “Are they angels? No. But we don’t want angels, we want kids. And we have good kids in Mashpee.”

In explaining why teachers may not feel that the rules are being enforced consistently, Ms. Arnold said the stricter teachers may feel like the more lenient teachers are letting too much slide.

“Some teachers may say, ‘Put the cellphone away,’ while other teachers confiscate the cellphone,” she said.

Many teachers also were displeased with community involvement in the schools. Just 46.7 percent of teachers agreed with the statement, “Families help students achieve educational goals in this school,” compared to 59.6 percent of middle school teachers across the state.

“Families are very busy these days,” Ms. Arnold said. “When it comes to monitoring homework or making sure that a project gets done, some kids are on their own because parents have to work. There are parents who are concerned but just don’t have the time.”

One of the big priorities that came out of the survey is figuring out how to help parents and guardians assist their students in achieving their educational goals, Ms. Arnold said. Still, things are already looking up, she said. This spring, the Mashpee Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) revived itself after a years-long hiatus.

“It’s going to be great to have a PTO,” Ms. Arnold said.

The area of “teacher leadership” also left room for improvement. For example, 68.8 percent of MMS teachers agreed with the statement, “Teachers are trusted to make sound professional decisions about instruction,” compared with 79.8 of middle school teachers statewide.

“As Principal in the building, it is up to me to build leadership capacity amongst my teachers,” said Ms. Arnold in an e-mail response. “I need to help them grow in confidence and in the practice of making decisions based on best instructional strategies, practices and professional responsibilities.”

Ms. Arnold said she wants to boost the number of teachers who agree with the statement, “Professional development is differentiated to meet the needs of individual teachers.” Fifty percent of MMS teachers agreed with that statement compared with 37.6 percent of middle school teachers statewide. Despite besting the state average, Ms. Arnold said the figure is too low.

“We try to customize it to what we know we need,” Ms. Arnold said. “We need to spend more time looking at data, at student productivity. That’s something we need to work on immediately.”

In an odd twist, 81.3 percent of teachers at Mashpee Middle School said their school building is “environmentally healthy” compared to just 36.6 percent of Mashpee High School teachers, despite the fact that both schools are under one roof. MHS has experienced leaks in the past and is dealing with a persistent musty smell in the guidance office. Ms. Arnold said she has had only one water-related problem this year—the sprinkler system showered the classroom of a social studies teacher.

“We moved them into the library for a week,” she said. “The kids were very adaptable. DPW was here immediately. They cleaned and dried the carpet and they did a super job.”

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