Parent opinion mixed on school satisfaction

Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A study on parent opinions about the Juneau School District has mixed results in satisfaction, but found that many areas were largely related to relationships between teachers and students.

Those results were presented in a work session of the Juneau School District School Board Tuesday, which took place prior to the board's regular meeting.

The districted contracted with the McDowell Group in Juneau to conduct the survey, which questioned 452 randomly selected parents who have a combined 810 students in JSD. This is the third year of the survey, but the first year with McDowell Group.

The survey revealed at least 83 percent of parents feel at least somewhat confident in the school district. Fifteen percent do not feel confident. Jim Calvin, with McDowell Group, said there is a 4.3 percent margin of error on all the results.

Comments on why parents aren't confident in the district varied from dissatisfaction with policies set by the school board to a lack of discipline, the fact it's a public school system, dropout rates, feelings the bar has been set too low, a lack of communication, a dislike of the curriculum, racial tensions, the need for a better special education program and that fundamentals aren't being taught. The survey did not address why parents were satisfied with the district.

Calvin noted that parents of students in the elementary schools were more satisfied with their children's teachers, schools and start time than parents in grades 6-8 and 9-12 categories.

In kindergarten through fifth grade, 60 percent of parents were very satisfied with their children's teachers, 35 percent somewhat satisfied and 3 percent dissatisfied. Parents of students in grades six through eight were 44 percent very satisfied, 45 percent somewhat satisfied and 8 percent dissatisfied, while parents of students in ninth through 12th grades were 35 percent very satisfied, 49 percent somewhat satisfied and 13 percent dissatisfied.

Similar ratios were found in satisfaction with their children's school.

Parents who believe their students didn't feel connected to the school said it was largely because of a lack of relationship with the teacher.

"It's all about the relationship with the teacher," Calvin noted.

Differences in opinion were most noticeable when it came to school start times. Parents of high school students were the most divided in opinions of start time changes with 32 percent very dissatisfied, 15 percent dissatisfied, 4 percent neutral, 27 percent satisfied, 18 percent very satisfied and 4 percent unsure.

Those dissatisfied with start time changes were unhappy largely because students are staying up later, they have difficulties participating in sports and other after school activities, including employment.

"Sleeping in doesn't prepare for work after graduation," one comment said.

"(It) doesn't show responsibility," another said. "It only allows them to stay up later and sleep in. Get their butts out of bed. (It) hasn't helped grades."

Other parents commented that it's hurting their family life because they don't see their children and some students aren't home for dinner.

In elementary schools, 64 percent of parents were at least somewhat satisfied.

Board member Andi Story asked how the results of the survey would be shared with staff.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said they would start with administrative teams. He said the data gained is important, but they need to ask questions of it.

"One of the things that's really clear from this information is it reaffirms the central role of the teacher and association with the child," he said. "I think it's a positive reflection - for the most part. For the most part, it's a positive reflection on teachers."

Story asked what the district is going to do to get more information about why the start times changed.

Gelbrich said one thing that can be done is compare attendance data, but the issue with pointing out specific results for the change will be extremely hard because there are so many new student achievement initiatives being implemented at once. He said the "water needs to settle" on the change, but questions still need to be asked about its effectiveness after more time has passed.

Gelbrich said he wasn't here when the decision to make the change was made, but he noted the start time change benefits are supported by national research.

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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