A TELLing tool for improvement

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95 percent of HCPS teachers took part in TELL survey

By Phyllis McLaughlin

Henry County Public Schools are working to interpret the results of a survey administered last year by the Kentucky School Board Association to teachers statewide and convert the information into ways to improve the educational process.

The TELL Survey – Teaching, Empowering, Leading, Learning – was offered online in the spring to certified teaching staff in all Kentucky public schools. The results, released in May, were discussed last month during a three-hour training session for Board of Education members, school administrators and members of each school’s Site Based Decision Making Councils.

The survey asked teachers to express their opinions on questions separated into eight categories: time, facilities and resources, parent/community involvement and support, managing student conduct, teacher leadership, school leadership, professional development, and instructional practices and support.

Local participation was one of the most impressive aspects of the survey, locally, Superintendent Tim Abrams said Monday. Districtwide, 150 of 158 eligible teachers completed the survey, or 95 percent – more than overall participation statewide (80 percent) and higher than Eminence (59 percent) and all five surrounding counties. Carroll had 58 percent participation;  Owen 62 percent; Oldham, 71 percent; Trimble, 72 percent; and Shelby, 81 percent.

Participation was 100 percent at Henry County High School and at New Castle and Cambellsburg elementary schools. Participation was 90 percent at Eastern Elementary and 81 percent at the middle school.

Nearly 80 percent of Henry County teachers agreed that there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in each of the schools, compared to 70 percent statewide, Abrams said. He pointed out that nearly 84 percent felt that they are trusted to make decisions regarding educational issues, and, overall, 88 percent of teachers in Henry public schools agreed that their schools are a good place to work and learn. That compared with 85 percent statewide.

Overall, 88 percent of respondents districtwide felt their school was a good place to work and to learn. Individually, Campbellsburg Elementary earned the highest rating, with 96 percent of teachers being happy with their school; HCHS, 93.5 percent; New Castle Elementary, 93 percent; Eastern Elementary, 88 percent; and HCMS, 64 percent.  

HCHS Principal Jim Masters was pleased with the participation and that most of their scores were higher than the state average for high schools.

“For a high school to have 100 percent response is unusual; I’m very happy,” he said Tuesday. “I’m thrilled that the teachers feel encouraged to improve instruction,” and that 93 percent of the teachers feel that administration and faculty have a shared vision for the school.

Teachers are clearly focused on improving student learning, which “has improved our scores on state testing and the ACT,” Masters continued. “I’m pleased that they feel there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, and that they feel comfortable raising issues and concerns.”

Managing student conduct

Abrams said that managing student conduct seemed to be an area that needed attention districtwide.

Overall, 84 percent of respondents districtwide felt that students understand the rules and expectations, but only 74 percent believe students follow the rules while at school. Additionally, only 73 percent of respondents believe the administrators are consistent in enforcing the rules and 72 percent believed the teachers enforce rules consistently.

Eastern Elementary got the highest marks from teachers, with all teachers agreeing that students understand expectations and follow rules, teachers and administrators are consistent in enforcing rules and the administration supports teachers’ efforts to maintain discipline in their classrooms.

HCMS, however, got the lowest marks for student conduct. Only 21 percent of respondents believe the administration is consistent with enforcement and only 41 percent believe students follow the rules. About 62 percent believe students understand what’s expected of them at school.

Abrams said the district is working to address the issue of student conduct by collaborating with the University of Louisville’s Academic and Behavioral Responses to Intervention program. The ABRI program trains teachers to work with students to clarify what is expected of them at school.

“We have posted the ‘6P’ behavioral expectations in all of the district’s classrooms and buses,” Abrams said, explaining that students are expected to be prompt, prepared, polite, productive and that they participate in learning and have a positive attitude.

“We are intentionally spending time explaining what these mean and what is expected of all students at all times.”

Additionally, the district has implemented Behavior Intervention teams in each school, composed of teachers and administrators and led by district social worker Sedrick Williams.

“We have already shown tremendous progress with a marked reduction in discipline infractions this year, as compared to the same time period last year,” Abrams said.

Masters agreed that the “6P” program – which are the skills children need to learn in school now and for the future, when they are in the workplace – has worked well at HCHS.

“We have lowered the number of tardies in the first semester, so far, by 100 and the behavioral referrals by over 100 from this time last year,” he said. “Every teacher is on the exact same page on how to handle classroom disruptions. ... We make sure all students are treated with respect and feel welcome in the school, while they are still learning the skills they need to be successful.”

Teacher leadership

Overall, most teachers in the district feel they are encouraged to lead and relied upon to make decisions regarding educational issues. About 89 percent said they believe teachers in the district are effective leaders, but only 63 percent believe teachers have enough influence when decisions are made.

HCMS again scored low marks in this area: Only 25 percent of respondents said they believe teachers have enough influence in decision-making at the school; just 48 percent said the administrators and faculty have a shared vision for what the school should be, and only 34 percent said the administrators provide consistent support to teachers.

While he was disappointed in the TELL scores, HCMS Principal Zach Woods said he and his staff are using the information to find short- and long-term solutions to some of the issues raised by the survey.

“There’s not a lot of time to sit and feel sorry for yourself,” he said. “We started meeting as a staff to look at how we, as a school, could communicate better. We’re trying to better utilize the expertise we have on staff... and looking at ways to involve more teacher leaders and make better use of [teachers’] time.”

Time, and the best use of it, was the consistent low-scorer for most schools and districts locally, according to survey results, and Woods said educators could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week adding: “You never have enough time, but there are better ways to use it.”  

For the long-range, he and his staff “are looking at scheduling options to allow better use of in-class and out-of-class time” for teachers and students.

During his four years as principal, the school has emphasized math and reading by scheduling students to two math classes and two English/language arts classes each day

Woods said the staff is working to determine ways to incorporate math and reading skills into other courses to free up some of that class time for other courses, including arts, health and physical education, as well as enrichment and intervention time.

Woods said the survey did, however, show that the teachers feel good about their co-workers and the abilities within the staff. “That tells me we can work together on areas that are deficient.”