“This school is led by an effective team.” “I would recommend this school as a good place to work.” “I would recommend this school as a good place for students to learn.” For some …
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Editor's note: This article was written on the basis of 2019 TLCC Survey Data on tlccsurvey.org on June 24. Those data reports were later taken down for further quality control, according to director of UC Denver's Center for Practice Engaged Education Research Kent Seidel. Jefferson County Schools' data results were reissued to the public on July 31 and are available at tlccsurvey.org. The survey results listed in this story have been checked against the final report to ensure accuracy.
“This school is led by an effective team.”
“I would recommend this school as a good place to work.”
“I would recommend this school as a good place for students to learn.”
For some teachers and administrators taking the Teaching and Learning Conditions Colorado (TLCC) survey, those three statements couldn’t ring truer.
And for others, big changes needed to be made before they could select “Agree.”
School administrators have spent a portion of their return to school this month reviewing results of the TLCC survey, formerly called TELL Colorado, which gathers input from school staff on the leadership style and culture in their schools. The survey is intended to be used for school improvement and is not designed to inform administrator evaluations, though “it may be used as evidence” to show that administrators have used “the results in school improvement planning,” according to the Colorado Department of Education’s website.
The survey includes questions about the teacher evaluation process, class sizes, planning time and community between staff members, among other subjects.
The first statement above, “This school is led by an effective team,” was the leading question in the “School Leadership” portion of the survey; the second and third statement led the “Overall Reflections” portion.
This year, the anonymous survey was administered online by CU Denver in January.
When the results come in each summer, they set off a to-do list for Jeffco administrators before the school year even begins. Included on that list: sharing results with staff members and strategizing for improvement in the coming school year.
To receive results for the survey, a school must have more than 50% of staff members respond. This incentivizes teachers, administrators and support professionals to take the optional survey, said district chief academic officer Matt Flores.
Of more than 2,800 individuals who took the survey in Jefferson County, 79% agreed their schools are led effectively, 86% recommended their school as a good place to work and 90% recommended their school as a good place to learn.
School by school, those percentages vary significantly, with a number of schools — including Shelton Elementary, Westridge Elementary, Dennison Elementary, Dakota Ridge High and Columbine High — seeing 95% agreement or higher with those three statements. The three statements represented just three of dozens on the survey.
At each high-scoring school, the strategy for success rests on the involvement and dedication of the entire staff, said Columbine principal Scott Christy.
“Most decisions we can make are collaborative with our teachers,” he said. “Our teachers know the community so well. It wouldn’t be wise of me to exclude their thoughts.”
When it comes to such decisions, Columbine’s administrators try to work closely with the school’s Learning Advisory Teams, made up of educators from each department. For instance, the teams played a big role in gathering input from educators when the school recently revised its bell schedule, he said.
At Dennison Elementary, the staff has done something similar, having previously held a discussion about which decisions principal Pam Yoder should make unilaterally and which decisions teachers would like to have a voice in.
Yoder emphasized that, when she does make a decision herself, she quickly communicates her thought process to the staff.
“In this day and age, we tend to jump over relationship-building and into fixing the problem,” she said. “If you don’t do that foundational work with people, you’re just going to keep spinning your wheels.”
“We’re family,” he said, “and families need to work together.”
Assistant principal Cory Olsen uses that same word, “family,” to describe his coworkers.
“I know what sports their kids play, what clubs they’re in, where they’re traveling this summer,” he said. “I rely on a lot of them. They’re all here because there’s a deep pride here.”
That pride in the school’s culture prompted 97% of Columbine teachers to say they found the school’s leadership team effective and 98% to say they would recommend the school as a good place to teach and learn.
Dennison received similarly high scores, with 96% agreement to the first statement above and 100% to the second two — scores that are by no means easy to attain.
Few district schools saw 90% agreement or higher to these statements. Some saw less than 25% of teachers agree that school leadership is effective, including Drake and Everitt middle schools.
However, 68% of teachers at Drake called the school a good place to work, and 97% called it a good place to learn. At Everitt, those numbers were 50% and 59%.
Administrators at Everitt could not be reached for comment. Drake assistant principal Megan Madsen referred Colorado Community Media to the district communications department for comment.
Although results can be valuable for school leaders, the survey results are just “one piece in a body of evidence,” said Carol Eaton, the district’s data services director.
The district combines TLCC data “with data from student and parent surveys, so we get those patterns (of) things that are in need or successes we can celebrate,” she said.
DU assistant professor Erin Anderson, who specializes in educational leadership and policy, likewise emphasized the importance of “peeling back” the results.
“If you laid out what you’re going to achieve and many of your staff members don’t feel you’re achieving it, that needs to be explored,” she said. “You need to spend time and identify the problem area.”
For teachers who would like to see improvements made in their schools, there are a number of resources they can turn to, Flores said, including each building’s School Accountability Committee or the Employee Assistance Program.
He also encouraged schools to take the “opportunity to learn from each other.”
“The value our teachers have has allowed the community to grow for many years,” he said.
According to Christy and Olsen, the strong community at Columbine has been around for longer than either administrator has been at the school. And after spending years in that community, the two have a pretty good idea of what goes into making a group of teachers and students into a family.
“Be really specific about your hires. You’re looking for people who are passionate about kids,” Olsen said. “Help your teachers find something that’s going to make them happy.”
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