I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.
Friday, February 12, 2016
Student Surveys: A Profound Step Forward for Escambia County Schools
A year ago I had the good fortune to attend a conference of school board members in Nashville, and one of the presentations I watched was on the subject of confidential student surveys. The previous year, in New Orleans, I had seen a similar presentation on student surveys.
The Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut were battling an epidemic of bullying in schools and they were also attempting to stem the tide of student depression among the local population in the effort to prevent suicides. These schools did this by initiating compulsory student surveys, confidential but non-anonymous, for all students in grades 3-11. The surveys were developed to be age appropriate for each grade level, and many of the questions were innocuous, while some of the questions were designed to be "trigger" questions that would identify students who were suffering from depression, bullying, or other serious issues. An affirmative response to a trigger question would be reported to school counseling services and such students would immediately be given support and assistance.
On the first round of implementing their plan, this Connecticut School District had one student answer one of the trigger questions as follows:
"there are some people who call me names and … people start rumors about me that i dont like sometimes i want to die and kill myself before the next day. i feel like everyone hates me and for no reason. ive sometimes been nice but when they bring up the rumor i say realy bad things to keep them away … one day i was thrown a note saying im ###. and it was my by bestfriend ... i lost the only thing that i can trust. i was alone for a long time. if this is un healthy then pleace help me …"
Fortunately, this student was referred to counseling and received the help he needed. (Other similar responses can be found on slide 22 of this informative 38 slide Power Point presentation on Meridens'
administration of their surveys)
I thought this was an incredible idea, and so I researched the idea further. As it happens, several districts are/were doing this same thing, to include school districts in New York and Minnesota (Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools). So I brought the idea to an Escambia County School Board Workshop (Minute 53:10 of this video) last year to see if we could implement something similar locally to address what appears to be a significant issue of bullying/harassment and abusive conduct by some students in some of our schools.
Fast forward to this past Thursday's special workshop of the school board, and the Superintendent and his staff are bringing the concept here to Escambia County beginning this school year. I believe this initiative, if we can tweak it and get it right, will be one of the most profound steps forward we can take as a district to enhance safety for our students. I certainly am in full support of this initiative, thankful that the staff and the administration of the district have taken this concept to a point where it will be implemented.
My only cautious comment and input (at minute 37:15 of this video) remains that we need to do these surveys right; We need to ensure these surveys are non-anonymous and confidential, not simply anonymous, so that we can identify quickly the students who affirmatively answer trigger questions so we can get them the help they need.
If we do this right, this could be the most important things we have done for students in my 10 years on the school board--that is how profound I believe this concept will be. On May 16th, 2016, our student climate survey will be administered district-wide. I'm very hopeful that this survey will give students at risk the appropriate mechanism to report any issues with which they are dealing. And I'm very thankful to the staff for the work they put in to develop this survey locally to get us to the point of implementation!