HOLYOKE — Holyoke Public Schools has released results from a Panorama Culture and Climate Survey showing bright spots and areas of improvement the district can focus on.

The survey gathers feedback from students, staff and families and results serve as an important source of data that the district uses each year to continually improve the district.

“There were several changes this year that make it more challenging to compare current survey results with results from prior years, including the district’s rezoning, the time of year when the survey was released and a change in how Panorama phrased and organized some of the questions. But there is still a lot we learned from this year’s survey,” said Superintendent Anthony Soto.

The 2023-2024 survey was offered in November 2023 compared to previous school years when the survey was offered in late winter.

One positive spot in the district that the survey found was that the rezoning process to move to distinct elementary schools has been contributing to students and families feeling more connected with the school. Another note from the survey indicates that the large majority of students and families have seen increased motivation for children to do well in school.

“Overall, I think this survey reinforces what we know to be true — there are many bright spots within Holyoke Public Schools. We are doing a lot of the right work and the work is challenging and the needs are high,” HPS Chief of Strategy and Turnaround Erin Linville told Reminder Publishing. “We need to continue striving to meet the needs of our students, staff and families, so that they all feel supported and successful. We greatly appreciate all their efforts — and the efforts of our community partners — as we work together to achieve our vision.”

Linville added statistics from the survey that helped capture these bright spots in the district. According to the survey, 61% of students in grades 3-5 responded favorably to “How connected do you feel to the adults at your school,” and 70% of the same students said they felt safe in their classrooms and 84% of families who responded do not have concerns with safety in school.

Another statistic reflecting these bright spots shared from the survey is that 86% of families responded favorably to “How often do you have conversations with your child about what his/her class is learning at school.”

Statistics from the survey also support the district’s claim that teachers are creating more culturally responsive classroom environments and improving relationships with families regarding students. These include:

  • 68% of grades 3-5 students and 69% of grades 6-12 students responded favorably to “Are your culture and native language respected at school?”87% of teachers responded favorably to “How easy do you find interacting with students who are from a different cultural background than your own?
  • 83% of teachers responded favorably to “How comfortable are you incorporating new materials about people from different backgrounds into your curriculum?”
  • 83% of teachers responded favorably to “How often do you communicate with the families of your students?”
  • 75% of families indicated that they communicate with their child’s teacher at least every few months, with 55% of families indicating that they communicate monthly or more.

“Individual schools also had bright spots in other areas. We need to learn from our principals and school communities about what they are each doing well, so that we can celebrate success, learn together and spread best practices across the district,” Linville said.

One of the big areas of improvement identified through the survey was teacher retention as the district continues its challenge of getting and retaining staff.

According to Linville, the data points in the survey that particularly stood out to the district include:

  • 45% of teachers responded favorably to “How respectful are the relationships between teachers and students?”
  • 39% of teachers and 56% of staff responded favorably to “Overall, how positive is your working environment?”
  • 30% of teachers and 39% of staff responded favorably to “How relevant have the professional development opportunities been to your work?”

Linville explained that as part of the district’s strategic plan, analyzing teacher retention data and developing a plan to increase teacher retention is key effort for the current school year. Surveys with current and former teachers, hosted focus groups, a conducted root-cause analysis have all been used to help brainstorm solutions for the district.

“We formed a Retention Working Group composed of teachers and leaders from across the district, and we have leveraged the Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Group at every stage to ensure we are listening to our teachers and responding to their needs,” Linville said.

Linville added a team made up of her, Assistant Superintendent Stephen Mahoney and Chief Human Resources Officer Beth Gage are working on summarizing the data and recommendations into a report, which will then be given to Superintendent Soto in February.

“Superintendent Soto has already begun to implement some actions in response to feedback he has heard this year as well. We are striving to be a best-fit school district for educators and staff. One in which our employees can grow professionally, feel supported and make a meaningful impact on our students lives,” Linville added.

In a release regarding the announcement, Soto said with these areas of improvement shown through the survey it would be important to continue building on the school communities and cultures, development of a teacher retention strategy, and ensuring the district budgeting process determines the resource needs – particularly in the areas of materials, supplies and tech – for students, teacher and staff.

“After reflecting on the survey results, we are committing or recommitting to a number of efforts to strengthen the experience of our students, teachers, staff and families,” Soto said.

Another area of improvement high on the priorities list for the district is improving support for social-emotional. Data from the survey suggest the district needs to find ways to more effectively support these needs in students so there is better engagement and overall improvement of school environment.

Some data points of note regarding social-emotional needs of students included:

  • 62% of grades 6-12 students indicated that the behavior of other students hurt their learning sometimes, frequently or almost always.
  • 78% of grades 3-5 students and 83% of grades 6-12 students indicated that people at this school are disrespectful to others sometimes, frequently or almost always.
  • 50% of families responded favorably to “How confident are you that your child’s school is supporting them socially and emotionally?”

“We are pursuing many efforts to continue to build supportive school communities and strengthen school cultures so that every child can learn, and all staff can teach and work in a safe, supportive and productive environment,” Linville said. She added that more information on the district’s approach to improving social-emotional support for students can be found at https://www.hps.holyoke.ma.us/article/1414414.
For more information on this latest survey, visit https://www.hps.holyoke.ma.us/page/culture-and-climate-surveys.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts