On report card, Lenox schools get all high marks — except in communication
LENOX — A community-wide report card on the performance of the town's public schools includes strong grades on academic performance, faculty commitment and school culture, but communication from the leadership to the staff and parents was rated as "needs improvement."
The online survey was conducted this summer as part of the school district's ongoing five-year strategic plan to gauge community perceptions and measure progress toward the plan's goals.
Parents, students, staff and the non-parent community responded to separate, customized surveys.
"Communication is the dominant theme in each of the four survey groups," said School Committee member Neal Maxymillian at this past week's meeting.
"There are many ways to communicate, but it's disjointed," Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan commented.
Superintendent Timothy Lee suggested that "communication remains a critical and important topic for parents."
However, most of the 68 out of 420 students in 6th through 12th grades who took the survey agreed that communications between the staff and students are respectful, and 82 percent considered Lenox Memorial Middle and High a "positive learning environment."
About half of the students voiced pride in their school, though about one-third offered no opinion.
Some students blasted "The Millionaires" school mascot, finding it "pathetic and offensive," "ridiculous" and "the easiest way to make every other school hate us."
"The fact that our school hasn't changed its message of bragging about money is sad," one student commented. "Lenox is known for being snobby, and many students prove this right," another suggested.
"It's hard to hear students say, 'I feel ashamed,'" said School Committee member Molly Elliot.
Vaughan cited the origin of the label, tracing it back to a sportswriter in 1929 who was referring to the "cottage-era" history of the town.
"There's no reason not to have this name, except that people perceive it as something," he said.
Several committee members urged that the history of the "Millionaires" moniker be displayed more prominently on the school website.
David Rimmler, a new committee member, urged that students be better prepared for encounters with outside athletic teams who are unaware of the history.
"Our students can be out there with trash talking," he cautioned. "How do you prepare them to not have a loss of pride or to feel that they are a target because of the label they carry?"
While half of the students viewed school leadership as accessible and available to hear ideas and concerns, one commented that "nothing gets changed" while another deemed leaders "accessible but not receptive."
Nearly 90 percent of students agreed that they were encouraged to do their best by teachers and other staff.
A robust majority agreed that they have "the opportunity to learn new things and develop new interests at school" while 52 percent found that teachers adapt "to meet students' different learning styles."
Seven out of 10 stated that "the teachers, principals and staff at my school share a common vision for quality education."
About four out of five agreed that all students have equal access to opportunities regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, national origin or disability. A majority expressed awareness of the school's policy and knowing "who to talk to if I see discrimination" at school.
Just over half voiced awareness of service opportunities in the school and the community.
Results from 100 parents who responded, representing about 20 percent of school households, found overwhelming agreement that students and staff "communicate effectively and respectfully," that their children's school is a positive learning environment and that their children feel pride in their school.
About 80 percent deemed their children's school leadership "accessible and available to hear ideas and concerns" while nearly all agreed that their children "are encouraged to do their best by teachers and staff."
All but a handful of parents believed that their children feel a positive connection to their teachers.
By a wide margin, parents agreed that teachers adapt their approaches to a child's learning needs, that teachers, principals and staff share a common vision for quality education and that all students have equal access to educational and other opportunities.
There was also strong awareness of school policies on non-discrimination and knowledge of whom to talk to if discrimination is spotted.
Parents voiced general approval of the school district's budget as responsive to the town's educational needs, and most felt well-informed about upcoming school events.
The staff survey drew responses from more than one-third of the school district's 155 employees.
Nearly 80 percent felt that students and staff communicate effectively and respectfully, and 93 percent considered their school "a positive learning environment."
The vast majority of employees agreed that Lenox students take pride in their school. "School pride is at an all-time high in both schools," one staffer commented,though another suggested "not all students feel they belong."
But only half of the employee group believed that "the leadership of my school is accessible and available to hear ideas and concerns."
"Only if it is something the leadership wants to hear," one staffer wrote, while another commented that "sometimes it feels like administrators have already decided issues or courses of action, and do not always value staff input."
A similar survey question found that only 40 percent of employees think that the staff "has a voice in the collaborative leadership of my school."
"We were given a voice but the voice was not heard," one staffer stated; another cited "a feeling of an increased 'top-down' management style."
Only a small minority felt that professional development offered by the district "matches staff learning needs."
Most staffers were upbeat about the district's commitment to academic excellence, with nearly all agreeing that "students are encouraged to do their best by teachers and staff," that "teachers adapt their teaching to meet the diverse learning needs of students" and that "the teachers, principals and staff share a common vision for quality education."
On school culture, a vast majority of staffers agreed that "school and community service are a visible part of student life in Lenox."
By a similar wide margin, employees found that "the school district budget is responsive to the educational needs of the students."
For the community survey of residents without students currently in the system, nearly 75 percent of the 31 people who responded rated the district as offering a positive learning experience.
They were mostly positive about the district's ability to meet the educational needs of the town and a majority felt the amount of spending on student education was "responsible."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
On the web ...
The complete survey results are posted on the school district's website at www.lenoxps.org.
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