Dillon Elementary School District #10 climate/culture survey results release

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Dillon Elementary School District #10 last week released the results of its lengthy, long-rendering survey gauging the climate and culture of the district.

“We received today from the School Board Association, the results,” announced SD #10 Board of Trustees President Jed Petersen at the start of the July 26 special meeting of the board to review and discuss the survey featuring more than 50 questions.

The SD #10 Board hired the Montana School Board Association (MTSBA) to conduct the survey in an effort to gain an impartial view of people’s views on the district that includes Parkview Elementary and Dillon Middle School.

The survey gained responses from 207 parents, 49 certified SD #10 staff members, 26 classified staff members, 27 community members and seven business owners.

“Overall, the survey results were very positive. It appears the majority of the people who responded to the survey believe there is a positive culture and climate in the district, and they are currently happy about the education provided to students and the work environment,” stated the Overall Insights of Survey Work section of the survey.

“Like most school districts, COVID-19 had significant impacts on school operations on staff, families and students. The district is working toward a sense of normalcy, but the impacts of COVID are still impacting how people feel about the district,” it added.

“On the one hand, it also appears there is a faction of the certified staff who believe there is a level mistrust between the staff, the administration and the board, and they would like to see improvements in terms of greater collaboration and input before decisions at the administrative and/or board levels. On the other hand, this is causing a level of frustration for others who are of the opinion that this faction is negatively impacting the overall culture and climate of the district and the way people feel about the district and their respective positions in the district.”

“Those are a rough couple of sentences as a staff member,” said Kelsi Lewis, a first-grade teacher at SD #10’s Parkview Elementary.

Most of the survey’s words and numbers, however, made for smoother reading for the district.

“The school environment is one that supports students and student learning’—98.96 percent strongly agree/agree. That’s the no. 1 thing that we have. So, you know, that’s pretty awesome, right, when you look at that,” pointed out Parkview Elementary Principal Greg Fitzgerald of a portion fo the survey that also found that 83.74 percent of respondents agree/strongly agree that “the school environment is safe for our students, both physically and emotionally” and that 86.05 percent endorsed the notion that students “take pride in our schools.”

Around 75 percent felt the SD #10 had high expectations and 72.73 percent that “students embrace and respect diversity.”

Answers to survey questions on working conditions indicated that 85.49 percent of certified and classified staffers at SD #10 believe the district supports collaboration among the staff, with about the same percentage expressing satisfaction with the opportunities afforded them for professional growth by the district, and 74.19 percent believing they had access to the tools and resources required to effectively do their jobs.

Only 58.85 percent believed parents know what is going on at the district and 68.42 percent that parents are actively involved in the education of their child or children.

“Are there things that need to be changed? I think parents need to be informed more about what’s going on at school. That’s one thing I saw,” noted Fitzgerald.

“As far as the common themes and the overall insights, I thought they seemed accurate,” said Sarah Hartman, an SD #10 parent who won a seat on the district board in the most recent school election.

The survey also asked, “If you could change one thing about Dillon Elementary School District, what would it be?” with some of the top answers including, “smaller class sizes” and “improving the trust, communication and rapport between staff and administration.”

SD #10 Board Member Marti Laknar said those issues got raised often and discussed during meetings of the district’s Labor-Management Committee that she sits on as a board representative.

“And honestly, most all of this stuff is stuff you have to work on every year,” added Laknar, herself a longtime educator.

“I don’t see anything out there that’s a red-flag.”

Her fellow board and Labor-Management Committee member Kent Graham concurred.

“I would agree, from the personal conversations that I’ve had with parents, teachers, staff over the last two years, it’s a pretty accurate representation of the overview of the current climate, her analysis right there,” said Graham.

“I think overall it was better than maybe some may have expected. But to be honest, when I talked to a lot of our staff, the majority of people said this year, a lot better, than it was the previous year. And I can’t think that there’s anything that doesn’t have a significant impact from COVID-19,” said Fitzgerald, whose worked at the district for more than a decade.

“I think the biggest thing is we can’t put our heads in the sand and go, ‘everything’s perfect.’ Because it’s not. We gotta get better. But I think we have some structures in place to really combat some of the issues that are there.”

“If there’s anything I took away from it, it’s that each of us bears a responsibility in this,” commented Hartman.

“I saw that parents need to be more involved in the education of their children. I saw that our staff needs healthy avenues to share ideas and concerns,” added SD #10’s newest board member.

“Our administration also needs to know what’s appropriate and how they can involve people in all those decisionmaking processes, and how to improve communication. But I also feel we need to figure out how we as a board support the administration as well,” continued Hartman.

“How are we going to start now to improve what we are reading about?” wondered Hartman.

“Obviously, there is no doubt this says we have an amazing environment for students and student learning. And I don’t want to take away from all the really good that’s in here, because you all have a lot to be proud of. I also don’t just want it to be a little blip and we allow it to go by without some processing and solid communication what we, mostly as a board, are going to do about it, how we can be actively involved in helping these areas.”