‘Lack of a Supportive Work Environment’ Tops Former Employee Complaints in Middletown Survey


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MIDDLETOWN – “Lack of a supportive work environment,” was the most common reason for Middletown Public Schools employees to leave the district according to an anonymous survey completed by 27 out of 80 employees to leave the district. 

Eleven of 27 employees who responded to the survey said that the lack of a supportive environment was their reason for leaving. Another four said they left because of a “lack of shared leadership,” according to a presentation by Assistant Schools Superintendent Jennifer Cannata to the Middletown Board of Education on Tuesday.

Cannata said the “optional and anonymous” survey offered the option of 3 out of 16 possible reasons for leaving the district.

The presentation focused on the six most selected responses. Of the 27 respondents, eight had retired, three made a career change, three were recruited elsewhere and three relocated.

Board Chair Deborah Cain asked how the district  was working to address issues identified in the exit interviews, and in a negative survey of the school climate among students last year.

“Are we having those conversations where teachers or staff feel safe saying, ‘I don’t feel supported and here’s why,’ so that we can continuously work on those things?” Cain asked.

Cannata said that two employees chose to follow up in conversations with the administration. She also said that it was possible, even with anonymous surveys, to take a closer look at the schools and departments with departures.

“We always look for trends in the responses from our employees, and if we’re hearing something over and over about a concern, or a department, or a school, we would absolutely look into it,” Cannata said. “We would look into it anyway, but if we’re seeing trends, we would absolutely go to the administration or look at a policy or procedure around the concern.”

Janice Pawlak, speaking on behalf of the Middletown Coalition of Unions at a June board meeting, urged the district to repair its relationships with employees by creating inclusive hiring practices, and by finalizing a transparent and “robust” exit interview process so that the district can “truly learn and improve on the pain points that are causing staff to leave the district.”

Between July 1 and Sept. 6, 42 employees resigned from the district, including 19 “certified” employees and 23 “non certified” employees. At the same time, the district hired 92 people, including 60 “non certified” employees. There are still 10 vacancies, including six teacher positions, according to another staffing report Cannata gave the board.

Superintendent Alberto Vazquez Matos said the district had been working hard to fill vacancies, but it has been a “revolving door” with teachers coming and leaving. He said it’s become a competition between school districts, as they all try to fill vacancies in high-need areas like math, science and languages.

Vazquez Matos said that Middletown offers a “competitive salary,” but that it can’t compete with signing bonuses and relocation stipends that larger districts receiving more grant funds can.