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Kalispell looks at school climate in staff, student survey

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | March 6, 2022 12:00 AM

The Kalispell Public Schools board reviewed the district’s climate survey results at their recent meeting, which asked staff and students to rate statements related to morale, connectedness, and safety within schools.

The survey review comes at a time when the district is looking at ways to improve or change “how school is done” on a systematic level.

Staff and students rated the statements on a one-to-four scale, with one being “strongly disagree” and four “strongly agree.”

There were 372 responses to the staff survey, which included all employees in all positions districtwide. The majority of respondents agreed/strongly agreed they felt they worked in a positive school climate where they belonged, were supported and treated as a professional whose input was considered when decisions impacting their work are made. Additionally, most felt comfortable discussing concerns and frustrations with leadership and empowered to make decisions about their job responsibilities.

The balance shifted to more “agree” and “disagree” responses to the statements:

“I have effective resources and training for teaching students with learning differences.”

“I have access to ongoing training and support to take care of our students’ social-emotional needs.”

“I feel that different cultures and backgrounds of our students and staff are valued/celebrated.”

“I believe our school is meeting the needs of our students.”

“We’re seeing a little bit of a shift there,” Kalispell Superintendent Micah Hill said. “Why aren’t they feeling strongly that we’re meeting the needs of our students? What’s going on?”

Hill said training was highlighted during feedback from listening sessions held in January as part of the district’s strategic planning process.

“We’re getting more and more diverse populations,” Hill said. “I think [special education director] Sara [Cole] said we were up 89 special education students this year over last year and they’re coming in with significant challenges,” Hill said. “How do we continue to address that and how do we create an inclusive environment in schools?”

TRUSTEES SEEMED encouraged that the vast majority of students surveyed district-wide felt safe at school, that teachers and adults cared about them, they had avenues to solve problems and had friends.

However, responses agreeing with the statement, “I like coming to school every day,” were not as high.

“Generally speaking, our kids feel safe at school. They have an adult they can go to. They understand how other people feel. Being in school is important, doing well is important to them — it’s important to their family — but they don’t like coming to school,” Hill said.

At the elementary level, an average of 77% of students responding agreed/strongly agreed to the statement, “I like coming to school every day.”

At the middle school level, an average of 60% of students responded agreed/strongly agreed to the same statement. At high school, the average dropped to 57% of students responding agreed/strongly agreed with the statement, “I like coming to school.”

Trustee Rebecca Linden was discouraged by those results.

“All the numbers go down when you approach high school,” she noted. “Again, maybe it’s normal, but I hope we can do better. I hope we can make them feel satisfied and that they have a place as well. I’m so grateful the elementary students do, but I’d like to see it continue on.

“I guess, why are we losing them?” she asked.

Why, is a good question when looking at the other responses, according to Hill.

“So, we’re creating the climate for them to feel safe and respected and cared for, and all those other things. I think those are really telling questions — and if we hadn’t asked that question — we might have never known that there’s a disconnect,” Hill said.

Student survey data was broken out by the elementary, middle school and high school levels.

Students across grade levels were asked similar questions, with some wording variation. Emojis (frowning to happy faces) were also provided to help younger students respond. The district presented trustees with the average percentage of students responding “agree” and “strongly agree.” A percent range was also provided, with the exception of middle school.

District assistant superintendent and former high school principal Callie Langohr pointed out another disconnect among the high school responses.

While 85 to 87% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I can understand how other people feel,” about 51 to 69% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Students treat students kindly and fairly at my school.”

“Out of every question on the paper, that one bothered me the most. It is the one thing we can control as human beings,” she said.

She noted that the question, ‘I understand how other people feel’ scored very high.

“We have a disconnect between students treating other students kindly and, according to this, they understand how other people feel,” Langohr said. “That’s a real head-scratcher and I think we have a lot of work to do.”

Trustee Lance Isaak added, “I would say maybe it mirrors our culture right now and I don’t know five years ago what that number would’ve looked like before the pandemic and our politics. It might be reflective of where we are now.”

Also on the lower end, 57 to 86% of high school respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they felt their voices were heard.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.