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Survey says...

Numbers show success, challenges for S'side schools

(Following is the first of two stories on the results of recent student and staff surveys in the Sunnyside School District.)

Staff and student surveys conducted in the Sunnyside School District show improvement and challenges that lie ahead.

The surveys, in which participants were anonymous, are an effort by the district to get a better look at how students and staff perceive the school district's efforts in comparison to the nine traits of effective schools.

The nine traits include characteristics such as leadership, communication, a clear mission/vision, as well as parent and community involvement.

Known as an Educational Effectiveness Survey (EES), the surveys were conducted for the district by the Center for Educational Effectiveness.

Sue Mills, executive director for the Redmond-based company, advised a big picture approach to survey data that consistently showed high school staff grading their building's performance lower than staff did in the district's other school buildings.

The numbers show that only 53 percent of high school staff who participated in the survey believe their school has high standards and expectations, while other schools in the district all had a positive response of at least 66 percent.

In addition, 47 percent of high school staff surveyed gave a positive response to their school's parent and community involvement. With the exception of PRIDE High School (39 percent) the rest of the district's buildings had at least 56 percent provide a positive response.

On the other hand, the high school did receive high marks from staff in areas such as effective school leadership (76 percent).

Mills said there are three reasons why the high school's numbers were for the most part lower than the district's other schools.

The first, according to Mills, is the larger population of the high school compared to others in the district. In Sunnyside for example, high school enrollment is typically twice that of any other school in the district.

A second reason, Mills continued, is due to the fact high school staff tend to be more segmented in different departments such as math, science and English. As a result, Mills said there may be less communication between staff members, including their successes and challenges.

The third reason for the high school's apparently lower numbers, according to Mills, is due to the fact high school by nature is a more complex time for students and staff.

"You have athletics and clubs, more areas of involvement," she said.

Sunnyside Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said another factor is that elementary and middle school staff have taken the survey for the past three years, while this was the first such survey for high school staff.

"They've had three years to work on this," Cole said of staff surveys in the younger grade levels. "The high school is just getting started."

Mills also put a broader perspective on the high school and district-wide results by noting that survey numbers among Sunnyside school staff grade out higher that the state average.

District-wide, the Sunnyside surveys showed overall approval ratings between 60 and 70 percent, while the state average hovered between 50 and 60 percent.

"Compared to other high schools in the area, and in the state, Sunnyside High School is doing quite well," Mills said.

The areas with the highest survey numbers included clear and shared focus, effective school leadership, focused professional development and curriculum and instruction.

Still, Cole says the surveys show room for improvement in the areas of giving help to struggling students and the integration of numeracy and literacy, which means using reading strategies and math strategies consistently and across all curriculum.

The highest areas of concern in the survey, he said, indicated that not all staff believes all kids can meet high standards, especially in math.

"This is an across-the-district concern for us," said Cole. "We are focusing our plans to address this issue through all of our buildings."

Cole advised that the EES is part of the district's overall planning, not a tool to be used to pinpoint individual responses.

"It gives each building in the district areas to discuss, a place to refocus goals and the opportunity to be open to parents, staff and community," he said.

Added high school principal Brian Hart, "While giving us an overall picture, the EES is one of many data points we are using to improve."

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