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Hillsborough survey: Most teachers feel good about their jobs despite pay, behavior problems

 
Bevis Elementary School posted this picture of the May 7 Teachers Appreciation lunch. Bevis, along with nearby Stowers Elementary School, are two of the happiest schoos in the Hillsborough district, according to this year's teacher climate survey. [HCPS/Twitter]
Bevis Elementary School posted this picture of the May 7 Teachers Appreciation lunch. Bevis, along with nearby Stowers Elementary School, are two of the happiest schoos in the Hillsborough district, according to this year's teacher climate survey. [HCPS/Twitter]
Published May 11, 2018

TAMPA — In a year when teachers staged angry protests over stalled pay raises, Hillsborough County School District leaders reported mostly positive results in their yearly teacher survey.

Teachers continue to be frustrated by the demands on their time. But they gave positive responses 87 percent of the time to questions about what is expected of them and the help they get so they can improve.

"I think, all things considered, we have a lot to be proud of this year," said Patti Simmons, a manager in the district's business services office.

The highest composite scores on the survey known as Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning were seen at Bevis, Grady, Riverhills and Stowers Elementary. All of them came through with a percentage of positive responses in the high 90s and, with the exception of Riverhills, all serving affluent communities.

The lowest, all in the 50s, were at Sheehy, Clair-Mel and Shaw elementary schools, Leto High, Adams Middle and Sulphur Springs K-8.

Behavior continues to be a challenge throughout the district. The lowest districtwide scores were in a group of questions under the heading, "Managing Student Conduct," as has been the case for several years. Only 65 percent of teachers agreed with the statement: "Students at this school follow rules of conduct."

Looking school-by-school, there were agreement rates for that question as low as 11 percent at Adams Middle, 5 percent at Shaw Elementary, and 12 percent at Wharton High.

RELATED: After a year of fights and arrests, Wharton High hopes for calmer times ahead

For the most part, Simmons said, the behavior statistics suggest that teachers and principals need more clarity in how they should respond to disruptive students.

"I don't think this suggests anarchy or a lack of rules in our buildings by any stretch," she said.

But she and superintendent Jeff Eakins acknowledged they are still adjusting to discipline policies enacted three years ago, with an emphasis on keeping students in school instead of suspending them for weeks at a time.

Eakins said he would not want to return to the days when students were pushed out in large numbers.

"There are real, challenging behaviors," he said. "But I think our teachers do an incredible job to minimize that. We're going to listen to our teachers on this issue, our principals on this issue, knowing there is more to do."

Despite continued problems with the air conditioners, Simmons pointed out, agreement rates to questions about facilities were almost all greater than 70 percent, which is considered good.

Overall, 85.5 percent of the 11,314 teachers and administrators who responded agreed that their school "is a good place to work and learn," a 0.4 percent increase over 2017.

Eighty-four percent feel they have autonomy in their jobs, a percentage that has grown steadily since 2015.

Simmons and Eakins said the results were encouraging, considering the financial stress that has resulted in budget cuts and bitter labor negotiations. Only 60 percent of principals agreed that "there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect within this district."

Eakins said the lack of trust probably stems from ongoing job cuts. "It does take a toll on everyone when you go through it," he said.

He defended decisions he made this year, including the hard line he took in teacher salary negotiations, and said he is "creating opportunities" for a more stable future.

When asked how he would reconcile the survey results with harsh statements teachers are making at board meetings and on social media, Eakins said, "as much as I would never want one of our employees to feel that way, if that is how they feel, I totally understand that."

But, he said, "my laser focus has been on the pathway forward."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.