Downbeat School Survey Sparks Concern in Middletown

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MIDDLETOWN — Board of Education members and Superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos said they were “concerned” about the results of a climate survey in which the district’s middle and high schoolers expressed negative feelings about school and were unenthusiastic about the prospect of attending class. 

According to survey results presented at a Board of Education meeting in June, nearly three-quarters of students in grades 6-12 who took the survey said the “energy” in their school was negative. 

In response to questions about whether the school provided activities that matched students’ interests and how much respect other students showed, about half of the middle and high schoolers said that other students’ behavior had at least some negative effect on their learning. 

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Additionally, only 12 percent of middle and high schoolers who answered the survey said they felt either “quite excited” or “very excited” about going to class. 

The responses generated concern from members of the Board of Education.

“I am very concerned, just generally, as a relative,” said Board Secretary Anita Dempsey White.  “Dr. [Vazquez-Matos], please, please do something. That is a very scary number. Twelve percent is a very scary number.”

Superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos told the board that he also found the survey results disturbing. 

“There is a sense of urgency to develop a strategy and a plan to address this,” said Vazquez-Matos. 

Jessie Lavorgna, communications director for the district, told CT Examiner that both the survey given to students and parents as well as an earlier survey for teachers and staff would be used to inform the district leaders as they made plans for the future. 

“The data gleaned from these surveys will be used by principals as they create their school improvement plans and it will be used at the district and school levels to inform administrator and teacher evaluations. This is all work that is planned throughout the summer; therefore, the explicit details are not yet available,” Lavorgna wrote in an email. 

The parent and student survey collected results from 550 families and approximately 1400 students in grades 3-12, and the responses from middle and high schoolers were by far the most negative. A clear majority of the elementary schoolers who answered the survey said they felt safe in their schools, that their schools had an overall positive climate and that their classes were engaging. Eight out of ten said they had “strong support” from the adults in their school. 

Over half of parents in the district also had positive responses to questions about engagement and school activities, with the vast majority saying that the district does a good job of communicating with the parents. But while the majority of parents across the district had positive reviews about school safety, nearly 7 in 10 reported that they “at least sometimes” are worried about violence at the school their child attends. 

Board Chair Deborah Cain said during the meeting that the students’ attitudes may be a reflection of the feelings of the districts’ teachers. In March, the district conducted a survey for teachers and staff, which gleaned responses from just over half of the school’s teachers, counselors, mental health workers and paraprofessionals, and just over a quarter of “school staff” such as nurses, cafeteria employees, custodians and administrative assistants. 

Teachers reported in the survey that although they overwhelmingly cared about their jobs, they also felt high levels of exhaustion, frustration and stress. Only 27 percent reported high levels of satisfaction with their jobs, and the majority said there was not a high level of trust between teachers and school leadership. 

“If the teachers are miserable, I’m telling you … our students are not oblivious to that. They feel that,” said Cain. “I don’t want our students to be in that environment, and I don’t want anyone to work at a place where they feel like they are miserable, either. So I think it would behoove all of us to really work together with our students, teachers and parents to cultivate a better environment.” 

Cain asked about the opportunity to have “town halls” to bring teachers together and give them a forum to voice their concerns. She said she felt that the issue needed to be addressed before school begins in the fall. 

Lavorgna said she was not aware of any town meetings being planned right now, but that they would “likely be planned when folks return from vacation.” 

Board member DeLita Rose-Daniels pointed out at the meeting that the effort needed to come not just from the district administration, but from the community as a whole.

“This is a community issue. Our schools are community schools,” said Rose-Daniels. “This is the voice of our children speaking right now. We need to understand further, from them, what is really happening.”


Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.

e.otte@ctexaminer.com