District survey results identify areas for improvement

On April 12, The Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board of Education released the results of a district-wide survey that evaluated the district’s strategic plan, which is updated every five years.
The survey gained qualitative and quantitative responses in respect to the five topics covered: academic excellence and learning, personal development and support, innovative staff development and recruitment, optimized budget and infrastructure and, the final topic, transparent government and communication.
Over 2,300 parents, 700 high school students and 500 teachers and administrators responded to the survey, for a total of 3,848 respondents. This was a sizable increase from the 2,563 respondents in the district’s 2010 strategic plan survey.
While a large majority of the district remains to be satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of education students receive, the two major concerns among students came in response to PAUSD’s use of funds and consistency of grading and curriculum.
Only 63 percent of students reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the district’s appropriation of funds; their stance was echoed by teachers, 66 percent of whom also agreed with this sentiment.
In contrast, 97 percent of district administrators approve of the district’s use of funds.
Too much is spent on things we don’t need,” one anonymous student wrote.
Another student added that there are “excessive and unnecessary facilities in some areas.” In March, the district announced that Richard Peery, a Paly graduate, made a multimillion-dollar donation toward the construction of a new Paly gym and athletic facilities, which was controversial to some, such as those who viewed added construction on campus, especially for athletics, was unnecessary.
Students’ concerns over the consistency of education in the district was echoed by parents and district staff. Two-thirds of high school students surveyed believed that “teacher quality and difficulty is [not] consistent across schools and courses.” Sixty-two percent of parents and 46 percent of teachers also believed that consistency across schools and courses needs improvement.
“Students enrolling in the same course could receive teachers ranging from bad to good, consequently resulting in inconsistent learning experiences,” an anonymous student wrote in the survey.
While both parents and students alike are concerned about the stress of students, the survey showed a noticeable difference in perceptions of the student sources of stress. While only six percent of parents surveyed believed that pressure from parents and family as being a major source of stress, 33 percent of students identified parents and family as a major source of stress. Seventy-two percent of students believed that this source was still significant, even if it is not a major source.
One of the most eye-opening results of the survey came from student responses to another stress source.
Ninety-four percent of students identified pressure they put on themselves as a source of stress.
“[Student] wellbeing is being sacrificed to the academic pressures of the ‘loud ones,” one parent wrote in the survey.
One positive growth in the district that students identified was the improvement in college counseling.
In 2008, 51 percent of Paly students surveyed in 2008 believed that they were receiving effective college counseling; that figure has jumped to 74 percent, according to the 2013 survey that was released.
As the Board of Education begins to revise PAUSD’s strategic plan, the survey highlighted certain areas that were identified for improvement.
Increasing student support — especially for underperforming students — was one identified area of improvement. Other areas needing improvement include increasing consistency across teachers and schools, improving communication between the district and students and also improving the teacher feedback system in order to provide support for some teachers, and give recognition to those that are deemed most effective.

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