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Dr. Grauer's Column - How Much Do Our Students Matter?

How Much Do Our Students Matter?

The Grauer School's Annual Report this year is mind-blowing. PDK research suggests that there is a crisis emerging. It has taken us decades to demonstrate that it is okay for us not to have to brag about the amazing stuff that larger independent schools can brag about, but that what we are going for could be more important. The Grauer School goes about things uniquely, and so the responsibility to demonstrate our efficacy is higher. I want our school to be a role model for smaller schools everywhere. All the evidence we need is shown in this excerpt we're sharing from our Annual Report. The Research and Evaluation Department report below truly shows how much our students matter to us.


Research & Evaluation Department Report
Tricia Valeski, Ph.D.

Every year at The Grauer School, we strive to create a safe space for teenagers to come of age, develop their voice, and discover who they want to be. In addition, this year, much of our research focused on the physical and emotional safety and well-being of our entire community: students, parents, faculty, and staff. One way we determine whether we are taking care of our community and living up to our mission goals is through surveying. Thus, we administered our annual surveys to parents, students and teachers, in addition to substantial board of trustee surveying on developing a shared governance culture.

Fun in Fupen Huang's Mandarin Chinese class - September 9, 2022 - Photos by Dr. Stuart Grauer

Parent Surveying

At The Grauer School and other schools across the nation, this has been a time for perseverance, for our teachers, students, and families. As the second full academic year of the pandemic ends, we continue to rise to the demands of supporting and educating our children, navigating the seemingly constant social and political upheaval, and simply keeping our families feeling safe (which as it turns out is not actually that simple).

We know that most students fare better academically and emotionally when they can learn in person, interacting and connecting with their teachers and peers [1]. So, at Grauer, one of our most important goals over the past two years has been to ensure that our campus has remained open, and that our students and teachers can safely be at school together. This has been challenging for everyone, but we have persevered.

According to Gallup, the United States is at a two year low in terms of parent satisfaction with their oldest children’s education (down to 73% from a recent high of 82% in 2019) [2]. Furthermore, more than half (54%) of parents in the United States are dissatisfied with the quality of K-12 education in general (also on a steady decline since 2019). These findings are not unexpected and can most likely be traced to the effects of the pandemic, as students’ emotional and educational well-being has been impacted by health issues, school closures and remote learning.

Panorama Parent Survey [3]

The news from our school is much more heartening, according to Grauer families surveyed this spring. Specifically, compared with parents nationwide, Grauer families are in the 99th percentile (meaning they are in the top 1%) in terms of their perceptions of school climate and safety, the fit of the school for their children, and student learning and engagement. Overall, Grauer parents report their students feel safe, respected, supported and treated fairly.

School Climate and School Fit

These two scales refer to families’ perceptions of the overall social and learning climate of the school and how well the school matches their child’s developmental needs. Children who like school are more engaged in their learning, and children who are more engaged in their education develop a love of learning and fare better academically. The importance of creating a school climate that fosters student enjoyment, motivation, and feelings of mutual respect and support can never be overstated. This should perhaps be the most important goal of any institution that calls itself a school. For example, 91% of Grauer parents responded favorably to questions regarding whether their children felt respected and treated fairly at school.


School Safety

According to a recent study by the National Parents Union [4], in 2021 84% of parents felt concerned about how their school was handling the threat of violence, and 59% expressed that bullying was a major issue at their school. Further, 78% of parents were worried about how their school handled disciplinary issues. At Grauer our parents feel that their children are physically and emotionally safe, and that they can get help and support from an adult when they need it. We have our incredible teachers, staff, and leadership to thank for that. This is not to say that issues never arise, as they are inevitable in a community of 160 teenagers. Rather, as our focus at Grauer has always been on our students’ social-emotional and physical well-being, every issue is handled individually by our school’s leadership team with compassion and care. 


Areas for Growth or Discussion

While Grauer parents express confidence in the school’s ability to meet their children’s needs, they are less sure about their own efficacy in supporting students’ social-emotional and academic development (50th percentile nationwide). This lack of efficacy could relate to families’ also relatively low perceptions of the levels of academic and social support that they feel they need to provide their children (below the 10th percentile nationwide). Here is how we interpret the data: The Grauer School promotes self-advocacy and accountability in its students. We believe families appreciate that, and it may be that many families take a hands-off approach with their children as they get older to help them develop these values independently in the safe and supportive school environment. Paradoxically, this could be Grauer’s secret.

 

7th Grade students studying fish cells - September 13, 2022 - Photos by Dr. Stuart Grauer

Student Surveying

Every year we survey our students to see how they are doing and to determine whether we are living up to our school’s philosophy and mission. Last year during the pandemic, we particularly focused on the mental and physical well-being of our students as well as other members of the Grauer community. This year we worked on developing students’ intrinsic motivation and creativity at school, as a means to improve student engagement, and the value students see in their education. We identified these two qualities as areas for growth based on our surveying last year.

Panorama Student Survey of Social Emotional Learning

Preliminary results from this year’s Panorama Student Survey of Social Emotional Learning indicate that we have achieved our goals: student engagement and perceptions of the value of school both improved significantly from last year (by 7% and 15% respectively). Furthermore, students at Grauer are faring far better than their peers nationwide in all areas we measured: in particular, student perceptions of school climate and safety, teacher-student relationships, and valuing of school were all in the 99th percentile when compared to other high school students (meaning they are in the top 1%). Student sense of belonging is in the 90th percentile, and their engagement and sense of rigorous expectations is in the 80th percentile, nationwide.


Areas for Growth

While these results are encouraging, there is still room for growth, as several of the scales showed a decline from the previous year. For example, while being in the 90th percentile nationwide in students’ perceptions of belonging is extraordinary, The Grauer School prides itself on being a community of compassion, connection, and mutual support. We attribute some of these findings to the continued restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we recognize the toll this has taken on our students, our teachers, and our school. Our entire community has demonstrated extraordinary perseverance and resilience this past year. Starting in August, we have planned a year of teacher training and support in the area of classroom engagement to reinvigorate student connection and energy.

Grauer 8th Grade students - September 7, 2022 - photo by Johnny King

Grauer Student Survey of Classroom Climate, Creativity, and Intrinsic Motivation

Student evaluations of teachers and classrooms demonstrate that our teachers continue to develop opportunities for student choice and creativity, meaningful connections, and creating a classroom culture of teamwork and collaboration. The result of these efforts are students who are curious, intrinsically motivated, and engaged with what they are learning, all of which are vital for academic success.


While these findings are robust, we continue to add to our STEM lab facilities, faculty, clubs and course offerings, in order to support student engagement, creativity and intrinsic motivation.

Teacher Surveying

For the past two years, we have prioritized the physical and mental health and well-being of our students. We have placed demands on our teachers to work more, to be more flexible, and to support each other. In addition, based on last year’s survey results, we asked our teachers to find ways to be more creative in their classrooms in an effort to boost our students’ intrinsic motivation and engagement.

Equally important during these difficult times is the well-being of our teachers, who have demonstrated resilience in the face of great challenge and adversity. According to a recent nationwide study conducted by Merrimack College and EdWeek [5], teacher satisfaction has hit an all-time low, with only 12% of K-12 teachers reporting that they are “very satisfied with their jobs”. According to EdWeek, teachers still love teaching, but they are exhausted and tired of the extra work they are being asked to do, and the increased emotional and educational needs of their students. Furthermore, “More than half of teachers said they likely wouldn’t advise their younger self to pursue a career in teaching.” That does not bode well for our children’s futures. Luckily, according to NAIS findings, teachers in small schools are faring better than their larger school counterparts. [6]

Grauer 7th Grade students - September 7, 2022 - photo by Johnny King

Panorama Teacher Survey

We surveyed our own faculty this spring (as we do every year) to find out how they are doing and feeling. The great news is, compared with a nationwide sample, our faculty scored in the 99th percentile in almost all surveyed areas on the Panorama Survey, including school climate, staff/leadership relationships, faculty/family relationships, school leadership, testing, and professional learning; and in the 90th percentile in terms of their ability to support all learners, teaching efficacy, and student perseverance. These results indicate that at Grauer, we continue to foster a community of communication, collaboration, trust and support, among students and teachers, as well as the school’s leadership. For example, 96% of Grauer teachers feel that students are supportive of one another and help each other without being prompted. 96% of teachers feel that the administration trusts them to teach in the way that they see fit. 100% of Grauer teachers feel there is mutual trust, support, and respect among teachers and school leaders.


Areas for Growth

Our teachers are not immune to the effects of the increasing demands of the pandemic and the major social and political upheavals of the past year. Teachers expressed the need for the school to find ways to ameliorate the additional workload resulting from the pandemic and a desire to be informed and included in important decision making. In an effort to better support our teachers and recognizing that COVID-19 is not going away, we are increasing support for teachers who must be absent by adding to our substitute teacher pool and administration for the 2022-2023 school year.

 [1] Supporting Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Maximizing In-Person Learning and Implementing Effective Practices for Students in Quarantine and Isolation, U.S. Department of Education.

[2] K-12 Parents Remain Largely Satisfied With Child's Education, Gallup, Megan Brenan, August 26, 2021.

[3] The Panorama Surveys were developed by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Visit panoramaed.com for more information. Response rate for 2022 was 36%.

[4] Parents Raise the Alarm About Violence in Schools & Say Increased Bullying and Mental Health Concerns are Major Issues, National Parents Union.

[5] Teacher Job Satisfaction Hits an All-Time Low, Education Week, Madeline Will, April 14, 2022.

[6] Teacher Satisfaction in Small Schools, NAIS.


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Grauer 8th Grade students - September 7, 2022 - photo by Johnny King

Grauer 7th Grade students - September 7, 2022 - photo by Johnny King

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