Findings in Bernards School 'Climate and Culture' Survey Presented to Public

Credits: Walter Pardo

BERNARDS TWP., NJ - About eight in 10 Ridge High School students said they think classmates commonly stay home from school if they are unprepared for a test or an assignment.

About one-third of students said they spend around four or more hours a night on homework, according to another finding in a survey previously filled out by about 1,000 Bernards Township students, about 500 parents, and also school staff.

Results of the survey were publicly presented at Monday's Board of Education meeting. The 199-page survey summary will soon be posted by the school board’s website on “presentations" page, said Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian.

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More than 90 percent of students surveyed also said they spend two or more hours using social technology after each school day. About one-quarter said they were well rested for school on most days, with 29 percent saying they felt well rested about one-half of the time.

Academic pressure said to be greatest challenge

Two-thirds said academic pressure was the greatest challenge for them.

Such were some of the more provocative results heard by the school board from the Climate and Cultural Survey conducted at the end of the last school year.

The survey was conducted of students, staff and parents at Ridge High School, Annin Middle School and Liberty Corner, Oak Street and Cedar Hill elementary schools from mid-May to mid-June. Mount Prospect Elementary had conducted a similar survey recently and those results will be used, Markarian said.

The superintendent took about an hour to review the survey questions asked of Ridge High students, parents and staff. Other results reflected the same methodology and questions, pertinent to grade level, at the four other schools, he said.

The district used a state Department of Education School Climate Survey, supplemented by questions drafted by district educators and “conjectured about in conversation” over the year, he said.

He prefaced his remarks by saying he was sharing the information, and not venturing into cause and effect.

Questions were divided into eight areas, called “domains,” covering physical environment, teaching and learning, morale, relationships, parental support and engagement, safety, emotional environment and administrative support.

In one of the district-written questions, 71 percent of high school staff said the curriculum was appropriate for students. About 41 percent said they felt the amount of curriculum was appropriate, while almost 36 percent said too much was packed in the curriculum.

About 107 of about 130 staff members responded to the voluntary survey.

More than 500 parents – perhaps one-third of households, estimated the superintendent – filled out the online survey. 

Parents said the district-produced email Friday Folder was the most-often viewed communication vehicle they used. About 55 percent said they thought the appropriate amount of homework was given, while 40 percent said they thought it was too much and five percent said it was not enough.

About one-quarter of parents said they regularly pay a tutor to help their children keep up with studies. Another 28.5 percent said they occasionally hired help, while 38.5 percent said they never did.

Slightly more than 1,000 students in an approximately 1,800-member student body filled out the survey using Chromebooks in classes.

Students were also asked their feelings about one common lunch period for all students, a consideration as the district mulls going to a “rotating drop” schedule in which students would attend six of scheduled eight classes in any given day.

About 28 percent of students said they were OK with the idea, if it meant they could eat lunch with friends, and even if it meant fewer lunch menu choices.

The survey will be directed to each school’s safety team of guidance counselors, other staff and administrators to develop suggestions for action to address areas of concern.

Board members sparred over how they would analyze the survey results. The majority decided to refer the study to the four-member ad-hoc Social Emotional Learning Committee, a decision objected to by board member Michael Byrne. He said he thought the discussion should be held by the whole board should discuss because it encompassed areas that go beyond issues of suicide prevention, one of the main concerns of the SEL Committee.

He said he felt he doesn’t feel he often gets full feedback and detailed information from committees, to which other board members castigated him for not reading board and committee minutes and background material before meetings.

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