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Survey results show mostly growth in positive feelings toward LCUSD

Discipline, counselor availability, staff morale and understanding homework corrections were among discussion points in the fifth consecutive La Cañada Unified School District-wide survey, which revealed that 91% of parents of students in grades 7-12 would recommend the district to other families and 90% of elementary school parents believe its campuses offer a supportive environment.

Supt. Wendy Sinnette presented the annual survey results at the board meeting last Tuesday, noting that it received a total of 5,192 responses this year. Participants included students in grades four through 12, parents and staff members.

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"We go through it with a fine-toothed comb," Sinnette said. "It's a 360 [degree] view and a high response rate. We're seeing pretty consistent measures over time. There's a definite trend toward growth."

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The school board's direction to staff in 2011 was to conduct the annual surveys built upon the LCUSD's core values to further the district's communication and transparency to its stakeholders.

Sinnette said survey results are used to inform of the superintendent's goals and the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) development that pinpoints where state funding is spent. It also provides data to site leaders planning school initiatives and assessing program needs.

Essentially it highlights what's working, what's improving and what's not. Teachers also receive the data for use as a guide. The 2016 survey cost approximately $13,000 and was conducted by Panorama Education, a Boston-based data and analytics company.

The survey showed that 53% of the certified staff believe morale is high at the school, up from 18% in 2012. Sinnette said the increase was good but not yet as high as hoped. Another upward trend was the number of certified staff who agreed the principal of La Cañada High School is an inspiring leader, up 20 points — to 67% — this year.

It was surmised by district officials that parents of students in grades 7-12 who took the survey might not understand the meaning of the statement, "my student has a close relationship with at least one adult at the school." Survey results have hovered between the low and mid-60% range over the years.

"We want to it to be at 100%, but I'm sure not everyone reads that the same way," said Dan Jeffries, board vice president. "They may not understand it means 'my child has someone they can go to if they need to' type of thing. The results are not consistent with what they believe."

On the same section of the survey there was an eight-point increase this year on a question centering on whether teachers follow up with a student once an academic concern has been identified, with 62% affirming that is the case. Sinnette said it's a great increase since 2012 but it should be higher. Also, Sinnette hoped to see better results on the question of whether or not teachers communicate with parents as frequently as needed.

Asked if discipline is handled fairly and applied equally in grades 7-12, student responses showed a 5-point increase this year to 64%.

"It probably reflects some reality there," Sinnette said. "I think the answer was significant on that. I think we should look at that again. I'm not sure if discipline is handled fairly."

The number of students responding who agreed with a survey statement that librarians in the Information Resource Center are helpful dropped four points from 2012, to 56%. Sinnette said librarians have been busy and stretched thin on their workloads recently.

Also, on the student survey for grades 4 through 6, the number of responding students who have felt comfortable going to their guidance counselor with a problem has hovered in the mid-50% range since 2012. Sinnette noted the district's LCAP committee has indicated a shift of counseling responsibilities at the elementary school level, away from counselors and toward assistant principals, may be in order.

The full survey is posted on the school district website and the board will continue evaluating the metrics and survey steps.

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Matt Sanderson is a contributing writer.

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