Local administrators didn't need a statewide survey to tell them teachers are overworked, classes are too large and resources are scarce.
At the end of May, the Oregon Department of Education released the results of the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning Oregon Survey — more commonly referred to as the TELL Survey — administered Feb. 24 through April 7. More than 19,300 licensed, school-based staff statewide, including 631 teachers and principals in Jackson County, responded to the survey.
"(The results) were more affirming than surprising," said Central Point schools Superintendent Samantha Steele.
District, then individual schools.
Teachers, principals and other staff were asked to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with about 100 statements regarding time, facilities and resources, community support and involvement, student conduct, teacher leadership, school leadership, professional development, and instructional practices and support.
Districts had to have a 35 percent participation rate for the state to publish their results. About 50 percent of teachers in the Ashland and Rogue River school districts participated in the survey, while about 70 percent of teachers in the Eagle Point, Central Point and Phoenix-Talent school districts participated. However, the Medford School District fell short, with only 23.6 percent of its licensed staff completing the survey.
The survey went out only three days after the district had signed a tentative agreement ending an 11-day teacher strike, and "we didn't feel it was reasonable to push for high participation in the survey," said Medford Superintendent Phil Long.
Of the educators who responded to the survey, 64 percent of those in Eagle Point, 67 percent in Phoenix-Talent and 77 percent in Central Point said the size of their classes doesn't allow them to effectively support students' needs.
Steele said that while her district aims to keep primary class sizes under 25, it varies by school, ranging from about 20 to 28.
At the secondary level, core classes tend to be larger, while "specialty" and advanced classes are smaller, she said.
Last year, there were nearly 40 students in one of the district's seventh-grade classes at Scenic Middle School, but this fall the district will add an additional full-time teacher at Scenic, she said.
Phoenix High School Principal Jani Hale said the school cut 20 percent of its teaching staff in 2008.
"So really, were people surprised that after year after year after year of budget cuts, class sizes are still not where they need to be?" she said.
Hale said the high school works hard to ensure English classes don't exceed 30 students. But it doesn't have enough teachers with advanced math credentials to keep those math class sizes smaller.
"In a pre-calculus, we will have roughly 40 kids, while Algebra 1 classes are in the low 30s," she said.
According to the survey results, local teachers said they need less "routine paperwork" and more non-instructional time, professional development and feedback.
Fewer than 50 percent of participating educators in Rogue River, Phoenix-Talent, Eagle Point and Ashland agreed with the statement: "The non-instructional time provided for teachers in my school is sufficient."
The results also indicated that facilities and resources were more of an issue in Central Point and Rogue River than in neighboring districts.
Rogue River is a small district with a small budget and, like other districts, is coming out of the recession and accompanying budget cuts, said Superintendent Paul Young.
"We are trying to do facility upgrades but that's a really hard push," he said.
Most of the schools in the Central Point district do not have adequate heating and air conditioning systems, Steele said. She noted, however, the district has invested nearly $600,000 in a new computer network.
"The survey confirmed what our technology department had already told us," she said. "I would have been concerned if teachers were satisfied with the old network."
Local administrators said the results of the survey will help them make future decisions. They also note the survey shows that teachers have done a lot with limited resources.
"When I look at those numbers, I see that teachers are aware they are making progress but are also aware of how hard they have to work to get us there," Young said.
Steele said she was glad to see that 97 percent of the participating staff in her district felt they worked in a safe environment, that 98 percent felt the school administrators facilitated using data to improve student learning and that 100 percent believed they were making a difference in students' lives.
Nearly 100 percent of the Phoenix-Talent staff also felt their school was a safe environment, and nearly 95 percent said the community was very supportive of the school.
"Bottom line for a principal, no matter what our expectations are, safety is the No. 1 responsibility," Hale said.
In response to a summarizing statement at the end of the survey, the large majority of local participants agreed that their schools were "a good place to work and learn."