Rockville Centre school officials discuss results of district opinion survey

Districtwide survey identifies gaps in perception


Rockville Centre School District officials commissioned a data company to conduct what they described as a “climate survey” in October, to better gauge the perception of students, teachers and parents of the performance of the district’s schools.

The results were mostly positive, with more than 85 percent of the 3,935 participants responding that the school climate was “excellent” or “good,” but the survey revealed a few discrepancies that administrators said they hoped to address.

“I wanted to understand what the community felt about our school district,” Superintendent Matt Gaven said during a presentation to the Board of Education on Dec. 7. “It was really important to me. I wanted to know where we are right now so we can craft a vision for going forward.”

The survey asked a variety of questions, which were broken down into categories based on family involvement, safety and behavior, student support, school leadership, and academic support.

Gaven said that district officials identified differences of opinion about several key areas of district operations. Some of the largest gaps among parents, students, and staff were in their perceptions of academic support and preparation.

Some 83 percent of campus-based staff said they felt that they successfully show students how lessons relate to life outside school. However, that number dropped to 53 percent for parents and 41 percent for secondary students.

“So there is a perception gap there,” Gaven acknowledged. “That means we have to be more explicit in how we’re connecting what students are learning everyday to life outside of school.”

Two other differences in perception that the survey identified are to what extent students, parents, and staff believe that students receive the necessary support to prepare them for the next grade, and whether that support addresses their individual needs.

The data also reflected discrepancies in respondents’ opinions on access to tutors, family involvement, bullying and discipline, and whether students know to reach out to principals with concerns.

The survey also asked whether respondents felt that students are treated fairly based on their race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, political affiliation, physical appearance or disability. The 77 parents, 21 teachers and 260 secondary students who said no were  asked to choose the most prevalent factors. Overall, 67 percent of students, 61 percent of parents and 95 percent of teachers listed race or ethnicity.

“This is not a shocking number, but it is a number that causes concern,” Gaven said. “It’s something that we have to have a conversation about with our principals. We have to talk about it with our faculty, guidance counselors, social workers, and think about systemic ways to address it.”

This was the first time that district officials had collected responses from the elementary schools, which they found helpful in identifying how the youngest stakeholders felt about their education. In total, 89 percent of elementary students said their teachers do an excellent job of making sure kids know that those teachers want them to do their best.

For parents, the district ranked highest overall when it came to safety and respect, but fell short when they were asked whether students are being challenged academically. The district staff gave the schools the best rankings for its academic and individual student support, but acknowledged that they can do more to promote opportunities for families to volunteer. Secondary students, meanwhile, ranked the schools highest for its supportive staff, its variety of extracurricular activities, and the awareness of safety procedures, although more than half said that their lessons do not connect to life outside of the classroom.

“Thank you for this amazing treasure trove of information,” School board Vice President Donna Downing told Gaven. “It’s a starting point from which we can go in so many different directions. And I thank you, and I think it was a great idea that you brought to this board to hire this external data company to do this in a professional and organized fashion that gives us all of these points to which we can drill into a little bit more deeply.”

The district is continuously looking for ways to improve, Downing said, and it is vital that administrators do so strategically and carefully in order to make positive changes. She added that while the study provides a snapshot of where the district is currently, it also reflects of where it has been during the pandemic and amid a turnover in administration.

“Thank you for listening,” Trustee Christine Ferazani told Gaven after the presentation. “Communication was one of the biggest things that we were seeking in the new superintendent, and you heard us.”

Trustee Erica Messier said she was pleased by the positive feedback they received from the community, but was a bit surprised by the fact that only 63 percent of secondary students felt their individual needs are being met.

“I think that’s something that’s really important to take a look at, is that we’re seeing kids as individuals,” Messier said. “We know who kids are, what their needs are, what their wants are, and we’re doing our best to try to meet those needs. We obviously can’t be everything for everyone in every moment, but that feels like a large amount of kids who may be falling through cracks.”

Based on the survey information, school board members said, they hope to address some of the highlighted gaps by working collaboratively with teachers and administrators to better shape their goals for the years ahead.