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Gainesville City Schools staff survey shows 'where the holes are'
Gainesville Middle School 8th-grade Language Arts teacher Courtney Griffin leads her class through a website build to show off each one’s poetry during class Wednesday afternoon. The project came about while the students studied poetry and figurative language. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

School staff speaks up and the system listens.

That is the way Gainesville City Schools tries to align its strategic plan, and it takes that very seriously.

Earlier this month, 476 teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, office staff and other school employees in the city system participated in an annual survey.

The survey is used to identify improvements for the next school year.

"It is extremely comprehensive," said Christine Brosky, the system's director of development. "It's aligned with how we look at our system strategically. ... I take this data and determine, as a system, where the holes are."

A major part of that survey asks teachers and staff what they need to become more effective.

School officials then take those responses and use them to set priorities and enhance staff training, or, as it is known in the education world, professional learning.

"We make sure they get the help they need," Brosky said.

"Our goal in professional learning is making sure the teachers are successful so that our kids are as well."

What the system looks for is ground-level information it can use to determine what kind of training to provide.

The information also gives leaders validation to request funding for those professional learning programs.

The biggest pushes in this year's survey include more training in accommodating all learners in the classroom - from the economically disadvantaged to English language learners. Some 27 percent of survey takers rated training most important out of 13 areas of professional learning.

Classroom management was rated most important by 14.8 percent and effective teaching practices was rated most important by 13.8 percent.

But one of the newest pushes has been for training on how to effectively implement technology in the classroom.

"Teachers are saying, ‘We really need more instruction on how to use the technology that we already have,'" Brosky said.

"For us, that's wonderful to hear."

She said the system will put a lot of emphasis on that area in the next few years.

The survey is also broken down by school and some are even going into more detail than the 66-question system survey.

Gainesville Middle School will look at each grade level individually.

"I have a schoolwide perspective, but each grade level may need different things," said Ken Martin, Gainesville Middle principal.

"Sixth-grade (staff) may need different professional learning than eighth-grade."

The school-level survey carries the same ideology as the systemwide one.

"We want to know exactly where our teachers need assistance," Martin said.

The majority of teachers systemwide take advantage of the assistance.

According to the survey, 84.4 percent feel that teachers participate in professional learning either "consistently" or "often." Only four survey takers, 0.8 percent, said teachers "never" participate.

Having the feedback from the class level, Brosky said, is essential to validate what administrators already hear from teachers day-in and day-out.

Brosky said the system tries to respond to that feedback.

For example, three years ago, teachers voiced concern about English language learners and gifted program students not getting adequate instruction.

The schools then started offering ESOL and gifted endorsements for interested teachers to help offset those concerns.

The same is being done with reading this year - at all levels throughout the system.

"(The survey) helps me build a case for actually spending funds to do something like that," Brosky said.

But, she said, professional learning goes on every day in the classroom, and implementing instructors and experts is, in part, determined by the survey.

Brosky will keep the survey as a reference until the same time next year.

"This information is valuable," she said.


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