Survey says teachers largely happy

District cites results as good news, others feel they don’t tell full story

The Douglas County School District decision to extend school vouchers to some students is facing challenges from four national and local organizations. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ccnewspapers.com
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A state-directed teacher survey shows Douglas County educators feel supported by their communities, happy in their workplaces and trusted as instructional leaders. That, district officials say, is cause for celebration.

But others say the results reflect only conditions at the school level, and that satisfaction with the Douglas County School District overall is poor.

The state education department’s Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) survey is as anonymous statewide survey of educators, conducted every two years to assess teaching conditions at the school, district and state level.

More than 70 percent of DCSD’s teachers participated in the 2013 survey, giving high marks to their communities for school support, clarity of policies and expectations, the work environment, professional standards and the curriculum. In total, 84.7 percent agreed their school is a good place to work and learn.

“We were really pleased,” DCSD spokeswoman Cinamon Watson said. “We had lots of teacher participation, and we improved in two-thirds of the data points over 2011. Some of those important ones I’d say (are that) teachers are empowered as instructional leaders in their classrooms. Teachers feel there’s a real sense of collaboration and trust. Our teachers feel very supported by the community.”

Many report satisfaction

On most questions, DCSD teachers’ satisfaction exceeded the state average.

“The TELL survey was very positive about teacher satisfaction in Douglas County,” Watson said. “That’s great news for our schools and our community.”

Douglas County teachers’ union vice president Courtney Smith said she isn’t surprised by the results, but they don’t paint a complete picture of conditions within the district.

“The TELL survey is designed to gather information at the school level,” she said. “Teachers are happy at the school level because the principals are leading their schools; it’s the only reason the district is still functioning. What’s happening at the district level is a disaster.”

DCSD’s only notably low ratings on the TELL survey are about teacher evaluations. Fewer than half — 45.8 percent — agreed that the district’s teacher evaluation process improves teachers’ instructional strategies; about 65 percent agreed the evaluations are fair and only 37 percent said the process accurately identifies effectiveness.

Under DCSD’s evaluation system, teachers are rated on a scale ranging from highly effective to below effective. Pay is based on that rating as well as the district’s market-based salary ranges.

Kim Herman, a building resource teacher at Castle Rock's Clear Sky Elementary School, said teachers are frustrated and confused by the evaluations.

“We don’t know how to use the system and don’t know how it’s being used against us,” she said. “Hold me accountable, but let me know what I’m being held accountable for.”

Info noted on evaluations

Watson said the district noted the TELL survey feedback on its evaluations.

“It’s good baseline data for us,” she said. “We’ll continue to work with principals and teachers, and if they have questions about the evaluation, there are multiple sources of information and people to go to.

“Anything new takes time to learn. But we feel good about the evaluation tool, and it is something that is state-mandated.”

Watson also noted the evaluation is new and not yet fully implemented, and that hundreds of teachers participated in its creation. Of Smith’s comments, she said, “That sounds like more spin from disgruntled union leaders.”

The district’s longstanding collective bargaining agreement with the union expired in 2012.

ThunderRidge High School teacher Brian White, an outspoken critic of many recent district changes who is leaving for another district, also pointed out that TELL survey data shows 22 percent of DCSD teachers say they plan to leave the district or leave education entirely. That’s more than twice the statewide response rate of 10 percent.

“Those numbers are pretty telling,” he said. “Teachers are relatively happy about what’s going on at their school. But the few things (in the survey) you can directly tie to district-level conditions are very damning to the district.”

Watson said she DCSD will conduct its own employee survey, but she doesn’t know yet when that will occur.