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Posted on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

Ann Arbor schools survey sheds light on student-staff relationships

By Danielle Arndt

Survey results shared Wednesday with the Ann Arbor Board of Education identified principal accessibility, trust, student empowerment and the disparity between teacher and student opinions of curriculum as areas for improvement.


Ann Arbor Public Schools shared the results of a two-year school climate survey at Wednesday's board meeting. The district has committed to gathering school climate data annually.

MLive file photo

In 2009, the board directed administration to develop a survey that would collect feedback from constituents at each building on major aspects of school climate.

The surveys were dispersed to teachers and students primarily during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, with Skyline High School completing its survey this school year.

Parents were asked to participate at the elementary level, but their participation rates varied from 6 percent of the family population at Thurston to 47 percent at Angell.

Board members were disappointed with how the survey was distributed.

“It seems this wasn’t taken seriously by some of the buildings,” said Trustee Andy Thomas. “The design of the survey seems haphazard, when we had very specific expectations.”

Deputy superintendents who presented the information admitted there were a number of inconsistencies.

Just 15 elementaries delivered the Zoomerang online survey developed by the initial school climate committee, while six schools issued principal-adapted Google surveys and two gave their surveys using printed versions.

“This survey was the board’s decision, not the individual schools’ decisions,” said President Deb Mexicotte. “I just feel like this is not what we had originally set forth.”

Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Alesia Flye said she is confident that moving forward the administration will be able to make improvements to the survey, which AAPS has committed to conducting annually to evaluate school climate.

She added she and Deputy Superintendent of Elementary Education Dawn Linden were not here when the survey was designed or passed out.

The elementary parent surveys were composed of 26 statements that parents were asked to rate either “poor,” “fair,” “good” or “excellent.”

At least 92 percent of parents surveyed responded with a rating of good to excellent for statements concerning overall school safety and security, how welcome they felt at their schools, responsiveness and approachability of office and support staff and the attitudes and responsiveness of teachers.

Areas parents responded to with higher percentages of poor and fair replies were: Responsiveness of lunch and recess staff, atmosphere and safety of the cafeteria and playground and principal approachability and willingness to listen to ideas and suggestions.

Linden said one way parents’ concerns about lunchroom and recess staff will be addressed is to include these hourly employees in positive behavior management training sessions.

She added the district will be encouraging principals to be more visible at the schools, particularly during arrival and dismissal times, and educating parents on how and when to approach principals to hopefully help improve this area of concern for parents.

But parents were not alone in feeling like they couldn’t speak with the principals.

Fifty-four percent of elementary students replied “not often” or “sometimes” to the statement “I can talk to my principal when I need to.”

Principal approachability was listed as an area of growth at the middle and high schools, too, based on student survey responses at these levels.

Linden said the surveys indicate students may not be aware of their options for speaking with the principal or the appropriate procedures and times for doing so. She said this information would be shared with students.

Across all of the surveys at the elementary, middle and high schools, teachers also indicated a dissonance between themselves and principals and administrators.

Their responses showed a need for an improved climate of trust among the staff as a whole and a need for the administration to embrace creative thinking, take action on teacher concerns and listen to teacher suggestions.

The surveys also showed a dissonance between middle and high school students and their teachers. Both secondary groups answered similar or identical questions and for most of the questions, students’ responses were slightly lower than their educators’.

Perceived bullying in the secondary schools, the level of encouragement students receive to explore different career choices and how much teachers actually know about students’ academic interests, goals and activities outside of the classroom were areas of disagreement for students and teachers.

Career counseling is something AAPS is focused on improving, not just because of this survey. But the survey does further highlight the need, said Superintendent Patricia Green.

Of the four areas — rigor, relevance, relationships and leadership — looked at in the secondary schools survey, the district's strengths centered around rigor and relevance. Teachers and students responded less favorably to statements centered around relationships and leadership.

Teacher-student relationships were a definite high point, however, of the elementary surveys.

To read the complete report presented at Wednesday's Committee of the Whole meeting, click here.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 7:47 p.m.

Truth is, what the district did get back tells them something valuable, as well as what they didn't get back. Seriously, who doesn't know that many of the principals are high handed and difficult in this town? Really, when principals get to screen their own feedback before it gets to higher ups...who is surprised at that level of poor performance? Not I. There are many great teachers in this district, but administration in so many ways is disjointed and disabling of good performance. Let's see how this gets improved...


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

I want to the comments of AAworkingmom and others. And further, I want to borrow this forum to speak directly to the School Board and the administrators at Balas. Dear School Officials, Noticeably low parent participation in this survey at a school is a BIG red flag for poor communication and a marked lack of trust between the school administration (principal or principals) and the parents. Those principals who "adjusted" the survey questions, making comparisons among buildings invalid or at least more difficult and those who had school building staff (rather than parents or PTO officers) handle paper surveys should be re-trained on the meaning of confidentiality and possibly formally counseled / reprimanded. A Professional Development refresher on statistical analysis for decision making, which is also called "data-driven" decision making, is probably in order for these staff members too. After all, they are supposed to be able use the "climate" survey results to improve their communication and engagement procedures and are also supposed to be using the NWEA test data to guide teaching and curriculum decisions. It's one thing to realize that a particular school community doesn't have 100% internet access at home and make a paper survey available. That's showing appropriate sensitivity to the particular population at a school. But any alternate system MUST ensure consistent questions and confidentiality of the responses. It shows an appalling lack of sensitivity to have school survey results tabulated by school staff who can match individual students or families with their survey sheets. As a parent who struggled for several years while my kids attended AAPS schools with ineffective, unresponsive and unavailable principals, I am very sensitive to the potential for retaliation against the students when school staff becomes aware that a parent has voiced a complaint about them.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

I received this survey a short 6 months after a new principal came to my child's school. There was a lot of turmoil that came with the new principal and to be honest, lack of trust (in the new principal) was the reason I did not fill out this survey. I wonder how many other disenfranchised parents did not fill out the survey.... a lack of participation is a a sign of things not going well at the schools where participation is low (especially if participation used to be high). Our teachers are great and I make every effort to support them!


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

I recieve school anouncements but didn't receive a survey. Anyone else?


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

We got our weekly email from the PTO/principal and in that email (and for several weeks thereafter) we were told to visit the link to the survey which was on our school website. In the case at our school, if you don't read the weekly email, you probably wouldn't have known about it. We have rather low parent involvement at our school, so I wouldn't be surprised if many don't read the weekly email and therefore didn't take the survey.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

none here. Guess my 3rd grader got it and filled it out for me.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

After reading some of the comments, I also will say that it would be totally wonderful if the lunchroom staff would be make to fill a part of the entire staff within the building, be kept up to date re: issues between children that many times spills over into the lunch hour, and have their concerns addressed as they occur. The noonhour/lunch staff is a part of an elementary school, and should be made to feel that their contribution to the experience of the school day is important.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 11:52 a.m.

I was a lunchroom supervisor and principal included our staff with the regular staff regarding Positive Behavior Training and it had been used for nearly ten years. My biggest problem with the school where I worked was a shortage of staff to student ratio which made the job difficult and to provide adequate supervision. In addition, the time allotted to the children to eat was not long enough. Having said that, I have the greatest respect for the individuals I worked with and who are working there still--you are to be commended.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 3:15 a.m.

" Deputy Superintendent of Elementary Education Dawn Linden said one way parents' concerns about lunchroom and recess staff will be addressed is to include these hourly employees in positive behavior management training sessions." If I were one of the said lunchroom employees forced to take this series of feel-good, accomplish nothing classes, I would have to hand in my apron and hairnet. Deputy Superintendent of Elementary Education Dawn Linden sounds like a born bureaucrat. Good grief!


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 5:21 p.m.

So the lunch lady is having a bad day and yet, she smiles to the children and even looking at her, they know something is wrong. So how can you be positive when you know you are about to loose your job to privatization? Even if they are privatized employees? How can they be positive when working for Chartwells who pay them minimum wage. Get serious here folks. Even transportation and custodians who are on the verge of or privatized have to look happy? I think you all need to talk to Trinity drivers. They certainly look very happy to getting a above minimum wage paycheck. So, no, this will not work at all.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Actually, the state has mandated that all Michigan schools implement "Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports". Looks like the lunch supervisors will be a part of this training as well as the teachers.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 11:34 a.m.

All staff that work with students (lunch supervisors, teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians) need to be aware of the positive behavior supports that the school is using so that there is consistency in the school day.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 10:48 p.m.

What are principal-adapted Google surveys? Does this mean the principal sees them before they are passed on to the BOE? If so, it seems like there would be a lot of room for "error".

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

@thecompound, sorry for the delay in responding to your question. According to the report, several of the elementary school principals changed, modified or added questions that they felt were more appropriate for their schools. At the time, the deputy superintendents granted some building-level customization to the surveys. Largely, the board was not in favor of the customization the schools were granted. It is likely this will be prohibited for future surveys.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 6:06 p.m.

My child's school passed out a principal-adapted Google survey. I did not fill it out because I do not trust the principal. I have tried addressing these trust issues with the principal and with district but have not gotten satisfactory answers or assistance. Our teachers are fantastic, so we (myself and other parents) just circumvent the principal when working with the school. Sad.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

More like room for correction if you ask me.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 10:18 p.m.

I know I completed this survey as an elementary parent, but don't recall seeing a survey for my child to fill out. Did they give it to them at school or was I supposed to have them take the same one I took? Anyone know?


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

By reading the survey to the students it allows all students to hear and understand the questions. There are many students who are learning english as a second language, have accommodations to have written work read to them, or are just not focused who benefit from having an adult read to survey (or math, social studies, or science test) to them. By sending a survey home, that is to be filled out by the student, the school would get data that is influenced by the parent or is rushed through because it is thought of as 'homework'.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

So the children are read to and told what to put down? I really think 3rd grade is too young for a childs input into what they feel about their teacher. They are going to put down what they know to put down so that they don't make their teacher feel bad that they really hate the teacher. Trust you me, it takes a lot to pull the truth out of a 3rd grader. So by doing this? Is really putting them into an embarrassing situation. Totally against this idea of Ms Jones reading to them this survey. Send it home so we can honestly put in our survey about the teacher (s). Trust you me, I know some who should not be teaching at all. Read to?? Really!!


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

Teachers are aware of students who struggle with reading and writing. These students have the survey read to them, some teachers read the survey to the whole class so that everyone knows what the questions/statements are.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 2:42 a.m.

Uh huh. Those that can't read nor write are now taking surveys? Interesting.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 12:14 a.m.

Student take the survey online as a class. I think it's only grades 3-5.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

I too wonder as to how much money was spent to collect this "data". It seems as though this project was not well-planned at all, with very little consistency from school to school. Why would certain schools be allowed to compile their data "by hand", especially when many of the questions involved parents' and students' perceptions of the school's administration and staff? It doesn't seem like a very smart or accurate way to collect meaningful data. Someone apparently spent an awful lot of time preparing a detailed report, but does it mean anything?

Linda Peck

Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

Perhaps the next survey will be taken more seriously by everyone and it will have more participation. This would be the hope. There are good ways of communication electronically, as is mentioned above here. So much more could have been done to make this a success and perhaps this will be seen in the next survey.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

How much was spent to collect this vague data? What if anything will be done as a direct result? Surveys like this are "feel good" events that accomplish little except wasting valuable resources. Surveys should only be undertaken when a very specific answer is needed and actions are planned in advance to address the answer received. This is a classic example of "good intentions" that result in wasted resources.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

I am a parent of 4 kids in AAPS. I would have been happy to complete the survey, if I had got one. Why didn't they just send out an electronic survey, like EMU does to their alumni? As a parent, it would be reassuring to know that administration does get feedback.


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

I didn't get one either............


Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 2:40 a.m.

I have one in the system and I too never got a survey either. So, lets row together to get one. Seriously? I would fill one out if sent.