Sides review survey results prior to school contract negotiations

February 11, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Issaquah School District administrators and members of its teachers’ union bargaining team met Jan. 9 to discuss the results of a community values survey.

The survey, conducted during the fall by the Issaquah PTSA Council, sought to gain information from district parents, students and teachers. The council conducted similar surveys prior to the last two rounds of contract negotiations between the district and the teachers’ union, the Issaquah Education Association.

The current IEA contract runs through Aug. 31. In 2010, negotiations began in March and a new four-year deal was ratified in June.

Issaquah Superintendent Ron Thiele, along with all five school board members and the IEA bargaining team, were at the Issaquah High School library last week to hear a presentation from Deb Smith, PTSA co-president, and Betsy Cohen, PTSA advocacy chairwoman.

More than 1,100 people — 87 percent of which were parents — responded to the online survey, which contained five statements of value surrounding classroom teaching and learning.

Along with rating the importance of various educational qualities, the survey allowed participants to submit comments and suggestions about what they like and dislike in Issaquah schools.

One survey statement, Cohen said, generated the bulk of the comments. The consensus was that many teachers weren’t consistent in their feedback on assignments and tests, nor did they communicate well regarding curriculum or expectations.

That was keeping many parents from feeling like partners in their children’s education, Cohen said.

Other comments focused on reducing class sizes, providing more conference opportunities with teachers and addressing the issue of poor-performing teachers.

“If training doesn’t work, they want them removed,” Smith said. “Easier said than done.”

Teacher responses indicated workloads are the key factor in their ability to effectively communicate with parents and students.

Another portion of the survey focused on the use of resources and investing in “programs that have been proven to produce better student outcomes.”

While teachers “overwhelming supported” professional development opportunities, the survey stated, parents said training programs take teachers out of the classroom too often.

Yet another portion focused on access to quality education, regardless of the school or which teacher a student has.

“Parents and kids are frustrated when they’re in a biology class where there’s homework every day, and their friend is in a biology class where there’s very little homework,” Cohen said.

Parents and students believe classes should have similar grading systems, test difficulty and homework loads. Teachers said their collaboration time is being taken away by other activities, and they need more chances for in-depth planning with their peers to standardize such things.

The PTSA officials also spoke about the results of a student-based survey from the Issaquah Community Network, a group that addresses social and emotional needs of students.

Students indicated that stress is a major issue at school, from worrying about grades and college choices, to extracurricular activities and peer pressure. Substance abuse was also cited as a common problem.

Solutions on the survey included reducing homework, starting classes later in the day and weighing tests equally across one department. For example, some algebra teachers might count test results as 70 percent of a student’s final grade, while other teachers count them for 50 percent.

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