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Fairfax County’s Stuart High struggles on teacher survey

More than 75 percent of teachers in Fairfax County high schools find their school’s leadership to be effective and more than 85 percent find their school to be a good place to work and learn, according to a recent 2014 working conditions survey.

But one school fared far worse than any other on the survey: J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church. Just 25 percent of Stuart teachers who took the survey said that the leadership is effective and just 32 percent said the school is a good place to work, a significant outlier among the county’s 22 high schools and three secondary schools.

By comparison, 92 percent of teachers at Chantilly High School said the leadership was effective and the same percentage said the school was a good place to work. At Marshall High School, 68 percent “strongly agreed” with the statement “my school is a good place to work and learn.”

The biennial survey of teachers is one of many ways the schools administration gauges school culture, and it can be an indicator of problems or successes at individual schools.

Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, the largest teachers’ organization in the county, said that problems at Stuart have been evident for months, as there has been a stream of more than two dozen employees who have left the school or are planning to leave amid complaints about the climate there. She said numerous teachers have described what they consider to be leadership’s lack of respect for staff.

“There’s a lack of respect for folks in the building, many of whom have been there a long time and who know the population, the parents and the culture and feel like their opinions don’t matter,” Adams said. She said a retired Fairfax County principal had been called in recently to help work with the school’s leadership and to act as a mentor.

Stuart Principal Prosperanta Calhoun acknowledged the school’s poor performance on the survey in a letter to parents, saying that she hopes to improve the school’s climate.

“Please know that it is my earnest pledge as we move forward to increase collaboration between the school and community to make valuable improvements,” Calhoun wrote on May 9th. “As I reflect, there were missed opportunities in targeted areas but I am confident through our school wide collaboration in relation to the [working conditions survey] we now have a clearer vision, and most importantly, have identified existing barriers.”

Calhoun did not respond to a request for comment through the county school system’s spokesman.

Fairfax County superintendent Karen Garza said that the working conditions survey should not be used in isolation, as it is just one of several factors administrators use to understand what is happening at the county’s schools.

“It is an excellent measure coupled with other performance data to assist in school improvement efforts,” Garza said. “I am impressed with how our campus leaders, including Ms. Calhoun at Stuart High School, embrace this analysis and engage teacher leaders in this important process.”

Stuart’s scores on the survey dropped significantly since 2012. That survey was conducted before Calhoun became principal in July of 2012.

In 2012, 44 percent of Stuart teachers said the school’s leadership was effective and 81 percent said the school was a good work place; this year’s survey showed double-digit drops in each area.

Those drops were starkly apparent in a presentation to the county school board earlier this month. Eric Hirsch, chief external affairs officer of the New Teacher Center, which conducted the survey, showed board members a slide with a graph indicating how each school scored on “positive agreement” with survey questions. The graph compared schools to their previous scores from two years ago.

Hirsch explained that schools in the lower left quadrant of the graph showed a decline in both scores. An analysis of the survey data shows that Stuart is an extreme outlier (the orange circle at the very edge of the graph above).

“The conditions are declining and are significantly below the district average,” Hirsch said of schools in that grouping. “That requires a conversation to say what has happened over the previous year or two that has led to these differences.”

Hirsch said that schools in that area might need more support from the central administration.

Below are the scores of Fairfax County’s 22 high schools and three secondary schools in response to these two statements: “Overall, the school leadership in my school is effective” and “Overall, my school is a good place to work and learn.”

The numbers reflect the total percentage of teachers at each school who answered “strongly agree” or “agree” in response to each statement, and they are listed in order of highest to lowest score on overall school environment. (Langley High School’s results in the 2014 survey, conducted in January and February, were not included due to low teacher participation.)

High School School is a good place to work Leadership is effective
McLean 94 88
Falls Church 93 93
Chantilly 92 92
Robinson Secondary 92 89
South County 92 85
Woodson 92 84
Centreville 91 86
Marshall 89 89
West Potomac 89 79
Thomas Jefferson 88 73
Lee 87 80
Westfield 87 78
Lake Braddock Secondary 86 77
Madison 86 79
Mount Vernon 86 69
Oakton 86 80
West Springfield 86 75
Hayfield Secondary 84 71
South Lakes 84 72
Annandale 79 56
Edison 78 61
Fairfax 78 65
Herndon 78 67
Stuart 32 25
Langley N/A N/A