At 5:30 pm, on March 5, 2013, we attended a special meeting of the Hartford Board of Education; the meeting was presided over by Dr. Matthew K. Poland, former Chief Executive Officer of Hartford Public Library. Other members of the Board of Education who were present included Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Dr. Christina Kishimoto and Hartford Mayor, Pedro Segarra. The public session opened 15 minutes late, and members of the Board were seen scurrying to their seats after a closed meeting in the back of the library (the meeting was held at the Mark Twain Branch of the Hartford Public Library located at Hartford Public High School).
Dr. Poland greeted everyone and urged the first presenters to take their seats at the front table in order to begin the meeting. The first presenters were from the Office of Pre-K-12 Education (Hartford Public Schools Central Office). The lead presenter was Jonathan Swan, Assistant Superintendent of Pre-K-12 Education and Sarah Horkel, School Leadership Support Coordinator from the Office of Pre-K-12 Education.
Mr. Swan opened the meeting by introducing his team and some interesting findings from the School Climate Surveys that were implemented throughout the District. Students, teachers, parents and administrators took the survey to give honest feedback which would gauge:
“the perceptions of the school through multiple lenses…” as Swan explained.
The presenters went on to explain tremendous consistencies in many statistics that the survey evaluated, including, parent participation the survey, where Hartford Schools has matched the previous year’s 80% benchmark target.
Ms. Horkel introduced the alarming trends that some of the surveys pointed to in several schools throughout the district. In some of the district’s target schools (lower-performing schools), students were more likely to respond negatively to a question regarding peer culture: this pointed to the fact that students experience bullies or other negative interactions with peers more frequently in these types of schools (not a problem that magnet and charter schools in Hartford experienced as frequently – as indicated by the surveys).
After Ms. Horkel brought this concern to the table, Dr. Poland with a rather astonished look on his face asked for more clarification. He explained how this was a pressing issue that should be addressed further. It was clear that several members on the Board (by their expressions and mannerisms) were not fully content with the presentation that the Office of Pre-K-12 Education was giving them about the peer culture in Hartford Schools. Mayor Segarra and Chairman Poland suggested a more comprehensive analysis for this issue, including a deeper look at where the children who took these surveys resided (Hartford students v. suburban Choice parents).
Members of the Achieve Hartford! committee, who partnered on this survey, continued to share their information about the 2013 Report on School Climate and Student Connectedness in Hartford Public Schools. Achieve Hartford is a local non-profit organization that works to attain high levels of achievement from students and increased parent particiption in Hartford schools. They mentioned how the participation numbers for parents are relatively low and discussed a need to get more parents involved in the survey.
Review from the Board of Education brought up questions of parenting and more specifically how well parents understand their children’s schools; the discussion is that parents rated their schools much higher in safety and fair treatment as opposed to their children who on average rated the schools about a point lower. Some of the most important questions in the parent survey were about whether the child is safe at the school and whether the child is treated fairly at the school. The responses to the survey were scored on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the highest. Results for the parent survey showed that on average parents rated school safety at 4.2 and peer climate at 4.3. In comparison students rated their school safety at 3.4 and their peer climate at 3. The Board of Education made it a point to focus on what might be getting lost in translation between students and parents and what can be done to alleviate this problem. No particular answer to this problem was posed at the meeting but all parties involved agreed that they should look further into it.
Board member Richard F. Wareing pointed out that in order to move forward the next step for the Office of Pre-K-12 Education would be to find out why the three subgroups (staff, students and parents) had different responses on the survey. If the Achieve Hartford committee is able to follow up and discover why there are such significant differences between the perceptions of teachers, students and parents then the Board of Education will be able to put together new plans that will help Hartford schools.
The main goal of the Report on School Climate and Student Connectedness in the Hartford Public Schools was to gather more information about how school participants actually feel about their environment. The results show that students have a fairly low opinion of their schools but the results should also provide a renewed motivation among parents and teachers to do their best to address these issues.
To learn more about Achieve Hartford please visit www.achievehartford.org