Westfield Board of Ed Discusses School Climate Survey Results at Meeting

Left to right: Lucy Biegler, Mittchell Slater, Ginny Leiz, Margaret Dolan Credits: Alexandria Addesso
Left to right: Lucy Biegler, Mitchell Slater, Ginny Leiz, Margaret Dolan   Credits: Alexandria Addesso
Left to right: Lucy Biegler, Mitchell Slater, Ginny Leiz, Margaret Dolan Credits: Alexandria Addesso
Left to right: Rosanne Kirstedt, Ann Cary, Mark Friedman, Gretchan Ohlig Credits: Alexandria Addesso

WESTFIELD, NJ -- The results to the 2012-2013 School Climate Survey were discussed during Dr. Margaret Dolan’s superintendent report at the Board of Education meeting on Oct. 1.

The School Climate Survey was given to fifth-, eighth- and 10th graders in the Westfield School district last May and June, as well as to their parents and staff. The survey assessed the amount of bullying that occurs in schools by asking questions about teasing, respect among students, respect among students and teachers as well as the overall feeling of safety in school.

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“Only one parent said their child didn’t feel safe,” said Dolan.

Although the overwhelming majority of students, parents and teachers were confident in the safety of the schools, approximately 10 middle school students at each school said they didn’t feel safe. That pattern was also seen in the 10th-graders’ results. Because the survey was given shortly after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, a time when there was much publicity surrounding the safety of schools, the board attributed the students not feeling safe to that event.

About 65 percent of eighth-graders surveyed agreed that teachers treated students with respect, 10 percent disagreed and rest remained  neutral. The 10th-graders who were asked the same question agreed less and disagreed more. Board member Lucy Biegler stressed the importance of this section.

“That is an area where I think a 'why' box would be great,” said Biegler.

Board President Richard Mattessich suggested adding a 'why' comment box for the next time this survey is given for takers to explain their specific occurrences. Dolan agreed with the suggestion as well as the rest of the board.

Special attention was also paid to the questions that asked if students are teased, picked-on, made fun of or called names. The question didn’t specify if the individual student taking the survey was bullied or witnessed it happening to others, but rather encompassed both.

For fifth-graders, about 45 percent said this never happened and slightly less than that said it sometimes happened and less than five percent said always. Fewer than 50 percent of the eighth graders given a similar statement, "students at this school are often teased and picked on," said they agreed, about 30 percent remained neutral and slightly under 30 pecent agreed. Of the 10th graders given the same statement, approximately 40 percent agreed and 30 percent of students disagreed or remained neutral.

To better increase the positive climate in schools, during the 2012-2013 school year there were five different training sessions for teachers that dealt with bullying as well as 14 programs offered to students. One in particular that board member Mitchell Slater attended and appreciated was assembly about tolerance and respect with former NFL player Eric LeGrand.

“It was one of the most powerful things I’ve sat through,” said Slater.

Slater also suggested screening the documentary “Bully” at the intermediate schools.

Also discussed that evening, instead of sending special needs students to out of district schools, starting in the 2013-2014 school year three licensed clinical social workers were hired via the Effective School Solutions from Summit, NJ.

“It’s a tremendous cost-saver,” said Dr. Michael Weissman, Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services.

At full capacity these clinical social workers can accomidate up to nine special education students at the elementary level and 18 at the secondary level, although Weissman said they are not currently close to capacity.

The Union County Superintendents’ Roundtable named Dolan Superintendent of the Year. The president of the Union County Superintendents’ Roundtable will attend the next board of education meeting on Oct. 15 to present Dolan with her plaque.

“Congratulations,” said Mattessich. “It’s quite the honor.”

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