Going into the new year with a renewed desire to make Oxford an exceptional school district, the board of education, at its Aug. 28 meeting, reviewed the highs and lows from last year’s climate survey issued to staff and parents.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Ken Weaver explained how the district can improve based on the survey’s most frequent replies.
The survey was issued near the end of the 2017-18 school year and was answered by teachers at all Oxford Schools and 628 parents.
Concerns from staff and parents
One of the survey’s starring worries was class size. In fact, at that meeting, parents from Leonard Elementary had come to express concern over that very thing in first-grade classrooms.
Oxford’s K-2 teacher contract ties educators to no more than 27 students per class, with the hope of only giving 25 to a class. These two things are not always met. Weaver said the board is exploring options and trying to decide how to address the issue, particularly at Leonard.
Another concern noted by parents and teachers alike was the starting times in the secondary schools. According to the Center for Disease Control, adolescents need between eight and 10 hours of sleep a night, but two thirds of adolescents nationwide report getting less than eight.
“As you know, there’s more and more research that seems to be coming out all the time on the start times of secondary schools not being the best for (the students),” Weaver said. “Having now four kids in secondary schools, I can attest to that first hand.”
Weaver also noted that some members of the community still take issues with Oxford’s International Program, which facilitates international exchange students. Later in the meeting, it was noted by several board members that this program and the school’s curriculum, International Baccalaureate (IB), are not related, though a misconception that they do has persisted for years.
“(There has been) concern that really too much emphasis was placed on (the International Program),” Weaver said. “We take it very seriously that there’s still a section of the community that we still have to continue to walk the walk and talk the talk like we’ve been doing and earn that (trust) back.”
“One thing that became apparent is that we need to educate stakeholders, not staff but stakeholders, on IB and what it is and what it is not,” Weaver said.
One of the survey’s most prominent issues was a misunderstanding of IB among parents. Weaver said the board and school administrators need to work harder to show parents and students that IB is “more than just learning a language” and explain why Oxford chose to teach students using IB, which is recognized as a higher-difficulty level curriculum.
Another need the board wants to address is the use of current data and research among teachers. Weaver said that while a teacher’s past experience and instincts when teaching children is “obviously” important and valued, the district should also put a priority on keeping up with current practices. This includes equipping teachers to use technology as an asset in the classroom.
To the glee of the board, surveys showed that parents and staff were pleased with the district’s human resources, transportation, and food services. Parents were also especially happy with how they were greeted by school staff when coming to the front offices for help, which Weaver said was especially important to serving the community well.
“It’s how they were treated right at the get go that leaves that lasting impression,” he said.
Over all, 95 percent of parents rated Oxford Schools as good or outstanding. Parents and staff also felt confident that school administrators were working hard to enact the principles of the district.
“We didn’t get 100 percent, but they did see that we were trying,” Weaver said. “It was huge to be able to pick that up in the surveys.”
While the board plans to address many of the issues brought up in the survey, much of the discussion after Weaver’s presentation focused on communicating well with the community and encouraging stakeholders, especially parents, to give the district feedback through the climate survey at the end of the year.
Earlier in the presentation, Weaver noted that 63 percent of staff said they had never attended a board meeting and that, with parents, complaints can persist long after an issue has been fixed because of communication struggles.
“It’s a little disheartening to keep hearing that (trust is an issue), when at board meetings we sit here and there’s two people in the audience,” said Trustee Korey Bailey. “But it’s great to hear that 95 percent say we’re outstanding.”
Board members and Weaver noted that many building, staff and other improvements to the schools over the years have been made due to the results of the climate survey. They said when it rolls around at the end of this school year, they hope to find a way to increase participation.
The board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Oxford High School.