Scottsdale Unified School District needs to do more to address theft, violence and bullying at its campuses, according to a report reviewed by the district’s governing board last week.
The district also needs to explore perceptions of the district’s direction and engage the community in decision-making, it said.
And officials should evaluate a possible expansion of professional development programs that would help staff address social-emotional support and well-being, according to the report by national research company Hanover Research, because students do not feel their needs are being addressed.
The report culled survey responses from 5,392 students, parents and staff and community members last spring.
It included about 2,807 students, 1,908 parents, 667 staff members and 10 community members.
“While the majority of respondents agree that the district provides safe learning environments for students overall,” it said, “only 43 percent of students agree that their school does not have issues with theft or violence.
“Additionally, more than 50% of respondents reported that students experience bullying based on their physical appearance (59%), gender identity or expression (57%), and sexual orientation (53%) a few times a month or more.”
The study also found that less than half of the student respondents agreed their classmates work hard, come to class prepared, and are motivated and eager to learn.
It added students were “less likely to agree” on those characteristics than staff.
It also noted, “Just over half of respondents believe that the district is heading in the right direction.
“Respondents express lower levels of agreement regarding leadership being in tune with their concerns, having a clear vision, and being transparent in decision-making,” it said.
It suggested district officials engage the community “in an intentional way by gathering feedback on challenges and communicating candidly on district and school potential action steps.”
The report urged they conduct in-depth interviews or focus groups “to further understand perceptions of SUSD’s direction and leadership and how to best support its parents, students, and staff.”
Researchers found that about 60% of staff feel the district has sufficient professional development offerings while fewer believe they are useful.
“Additionally, students report low levels of satisfaction related to social emotional competencies,” the report said. “As such, SUSD should equip staff with the resources to develop students’ skills in areas such as conflict resolution, empathy, and emotional regulation.
A spokeswoman for Hanover Research noted the company had some recommendations based on the findings.
One urged transparency as district officials continued “exploring perceptions of Scottsdale’s direction and engaging the community in any activity, in any decision making.”
It said the district should inform the community “of any next steps that are going to be taken, potentially doing in-depth interviews or focus groups to learn a little bit more about how leadership can best support them.”
The firm also noted that only 43 percent of students believe schools “don’t have issues with violence and theft and some of those issues we saw with bullying based on religion, gender identity, sexual orientation.”
Hanover noted it has tools that the district can use in “evaluating different new policies around bullying in schools and ensure the rules are being enforced equitably related to violence and bullying in schools.”
Citing how staff wants high-quality professional development and noting students “low levels of satisfaction related on their level of emotional competencies and how the district was supporting them,” Hanover said the district should focus on additional training in “conflict resolution, empathy and emotional regulation.”
Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel pointed to a data point that showed that 20% of respondents either disagree or strongly disagree the district is moving in the right direction.
Another 24% were neutral on the question, but that left 57% agreeing or strongly agreeing that the district is heading in the right direction.
“When you look at it in terms of the totality of the situation, I don’t see that one as a negative,” he said. “I see that as more people supporting the direction we’re heading.
“We do have opportunities for improvement but I think it’s important to point out we don’t have 50% of the respondents saying we’re going in the wrong direction.”
The report wasn’t all bad news in other areas either.
Respondents were asked questions about how community engagement improved over the last three school years and the overall response showed a positive trend over time.
For instance, when asked how well the district engages the community, only 46% agreed or strongly agreed in the 2018-19 school year, 73% agreed or strongly agreed in 2019-20 and 76% agreed or strongly agreed in 2020-21.
Governing board member Zach Lindsay said the report is a high-level overview and that it needs to delve into it some key issues with more surveys and town halls in the high schools to find out what is going on with students.
“The survey definitely showed, we need to find out why the students feel the way they do,” Lindsay said.
He wondered how much COVID protocols played a role in the students’ responses.
He also focused on the fact that only 33% of students said they liked school.
Lindsay said there could be all sorts of reasons for that number. On any given day a kid might not like school because he has a big test or presentation to give.
But he conceded that’s a big difference than not liking school because they are getting bullied or picked on.
“We really need to delve down on why the students are feeling the way they are,” Lindsay said. “We want them to feel supported and be happy to be at school.”
Governing board member Jann-Michael Greenburg said the report showed real disparities between what students perceive versus what staff and parents perceive.
For instance, only 35% of students said the school or district develops students’ ability to manage emotion. At the same time 58% of staff and 57% of parents agreed with the statement.
Greenburg also noted the timing of the survey in the spring may not have been ideal.
It is an emotional time when students are typically facing things like major tests and saying goodbye to friends.
“There’s just a lot going on in the last semester,” Greenburg said.