Results of a recently released state survey show Douglas County's teachers feel safe and supported by their individual school communities, but have concerns about the district's evaluation system.
Concerns about evaluations are reflected by teachers statewide, but in higher numbers in the Douglas County School District.
The Teaching, Empowering, Leading & Learning, or TELL, survey is given every two years by the New Teacher Center. The state Legislature uses it as a way to evaluate teachers' working conditions.
About 87 percent of DCSD teachers agreed their school is a good place to work and learn, slightly higher than the state average of 85 percent.
Questions about teacher evaluations showed about 70 percent of Douglas County teachers who responded don't think the process accurately identifies their effectiveness, significantly higher than the state average.
The greatest difference between district and state teachers' responses emerged in questions posed only to school principals.
Almost half of Douglas County's principals don't feel the district has an “effective decision-making and problem-solving process,” and 57 percent disagree that the district has “an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.”
In both cases, that's almost twice the average of principals statewide.
School board president Kevin Larsen said he's encouraged overall by the results, and won't ignore potential trouble spots.
“It's not all roses in every single category, but I'd say by and large the great majority of the survey had positive results,” he said, pointing to high marks given to professional development and ability to influence school-level decisions. “There are certainly some things we'll dig into further where those numbers are not so high.
“The evaluation part is sticking out as the one with the least amount of excitement or buy-in.”
Larsen believes some confusion is linked to state assessments; results from those are not this year tied to evaluations. The district evaluations introduced in 2012 are still relatively new, Larsen said, and may require adjustment.
“That means we have to listen to and think, `These are some areas where we can work and see if they can be improved,' ” he said. “We're going to keep trying to do that. There needs to be continued bridging and understanding.”
Meg Masten, spokeswoman for the group Douglas County Parents, said the responses related to evaluations are alarming.
“Seventy-one percent of teachers in Douglas County disagree or strongly disagree that their evaluation identifies effectiveness,” she said. “That is not only going to bring down morale, but glaringly brings into question the ability of our evaluation system to effectively assess teachers.”
One-third of principals feel the district doesn't provide them with high-quality applicants; 18 percent of principals statewide feel the same.
Principal responses showed Douglas County's school leaders are less experienced than the state average.
Masten also found those two items significant.
“That's good evidence our pay-for-performance system is not attracting the best and the brightest as the district has claimed all along,” she said.
Larsen acknowledged the responses that show unease with district-level issues, but said he's more concerned that teachers and principals feel happy and supported in their individual buildings.
"If I'm working in a building and part of a bigger global group, what's most important to me is what's going on in my team, at my location,” he said. “If I'm given the choice of teachers are happy in their building, but maybe still coming to terms with what they feel about the whole district or even the board, I can live with that. I would take that over them being thrilled with me, and not having a great relationship or trust in the person at their school.”
School board members last month criticized a survey financed by the Douglas County teachers' union that showed low employee morale and dissatisfaction with recent education reforms. Larsen said then he felt the TELL survey would provide better, more representative feedback.
About 16 percent of DCSD staff participated in the union survey.
More than 61 percent of Douglas County educators took the 2015 TELL survey.