FLEMINGTON, NJ - Superintendent Dr. Kari McGann shared the mostly positive, but occasionally negative, results of the annual Flemington-Raritan Regional School District Climate Survey at the last board of education meeting.
There were two parts of the survey, she said. Parents, staff and students spent time indicating whether they agree or disagree with a number of statements about their schools, and these three groups of stakeholders also had the opportunity to leave a comment.
A total of 299 parents responded to the survey.
“That’s about 10 more than last year, so (we’ve received) about the same number of responses, consistently three years in a row,” McGann said. “We’ve used the same survey questions now for three years so that we can draw some conclusions between (the) three years.”
McGann noted a bulk of the results and comments were positive, and there were “hardly any negative,” as a majority of parents, for example, indicated that they are proud that their child attends his or her current school.
But there were a few exceptions, as McGann noted some responses skewed a little higher on the other end of the spectrum than the past two years, such as in the statement, “My child’s class size is appropriate.” A total of 17 parents disagreed with this statement, while seven strongly disagreed in this year’s survey.
In the words of one parent, “Class sizes at the elementary level are too large and have a negative impact on learning.”
This comment was one of 114 parent comments submitted. McGann told the board and public that she reads every single one of the comments from parents, students and staff, and codes them accordingly to reflect the content of the comment like “air quality” or “remote learning,” to name a few.
She didn’t provide all the comments in her board report, but pulled some from each of the different “tags” to share. She summarized parent comments, as “there were hardly any negative comments” and most are “so happy that their kids are in our schools.”
“I didn’t read any of the 114 comments that said anything that caused me to think, ‘Oh, I really to need to speak with this person or that person or share this,’ or, ‘This is a real problem for us,’ because there wasn’t,” she said.
There were some comments that highlighted areas needing improvement, such as one parent who commented, “Remote learning needs to take into account kids with IEPs. I don’t see any adjustments or accommodation.” Another parent commented, “I wish that the administration would take a more serious approach to handling students that are exhibiting harmful behavior in the classroom.”
There were 177 staff responses to the survey statements and 70 staff members left a comment.
A majority agree that “students at this school are well-behaved.” However, McGann noted that “we see this creeping up a little bit. We see that in the comment (section).”
In response to a statement about the school’s schedule allowing for teacher collaboration, 39 disagreed and nine strongly disagreed.
“They want more time to plan,” McGann said.
In response to the statement, “I spend too much of my teaching time on disciplining students,” 21 members of staff agreed and seven disagreed.
“We have some (staff) that say, ‘Yes, they’re spending some time disciplining students,’” McGann said. “We see that in some of the comments."
McGann shared many of the positive comments, like one staff member who explained their support of the board of education. She contended that staff did not have any negative comments to share, “other than there were some comments about working with student discipline, but they didn’t put it as negative, it was lots of positive. They just said we have some areas that we need to work on with student behavior.”
This was the first year the survey invited responses from students. A total of 74 students, kindergarten through sixth grade, responded to statements about their school, everything from cleanliness and safety, to their teachers.
Of those, 40 students left comments, but McGann noted that this number included students who just said they didn’t have any comments to share.
“Students at this school are bullied” was one statement in which 32 students said “sometimes,” while seven said “yes.” Along the same line, “Students at this school are teased, picked on, made fun of or called names” was one of the statements in which 38 said sometimes and seven said yes.
“Sometimes, we know that’s part of growing up,” McGann said. “That’s why we need to make sure we are watching closely. This is learning how to be appropriate when we have conflicts with others or when we are taking it a step too far. Our guidance counselors do a great job with the classes.”
A majority of the submitted comments were positive, saying, “I think this district is a really good district and I don’t want to leave.”
A Francis A. Desmares student said in the comment section, according to McGann, that, “I wish there was a gate by the playground so no one can just walk in and we would be safer.”
Other comments, which were “tough to read,” were “bullying is sometimes a problem” and “people sometimes make fun of people when they are not looking or listening,” McGann said.
One comment, McGann said, “breaks her heart.”
This comment said, “I don’t really like how my homework is affecting my parents. Sometimes they are happy that I’ve done my homework, other times they seem stressed about how I’m doing in school. And I don’t like it how people look at me as the one Black kid in the classroom. Otherwise, I’m fine.”
She said she has the ability to look at this student’s individual responses with the Survey Monkey tool, however, she could not reach out to the student directly because the survey is anonymous. She can identify the student’s school and can read through the student’s individual responses to statements.
“At times, when I read a comment like this one, or one from a parent, I take more time and I go back and look at their individual answers on their questions and see how they responded to other questions,” she said. “I’ll share with you that the answers that this student shared said that they do feel supported by their teachers, that they do have friends. But it’s hard. This one, we’re talking a lot about. We’ll talk about this one with our equity committee too.”
A total of 23 students, seventh and eighth grade, filled out responses to the statements, and 10 students left comments. Like the younger students, some of these 10 comments indicated they didn’t have any comments to share.
“The seventh and eighth graders like the school building,” McGann said. “It has clear rules. Most kids do their best even when the work is difficult. Most students do all their homework.”
“We didn’t have a huge response here, despite (us) encouraging them,” she added.
Those interested in reading further into the lengthy report should visit www.frsd.k12.nj.us/Page/25/.
Click: “Superintendent’s Report – June 22.” The survey results begin on the eighth slide.