For Nome Public Schools, survey shows success and room for improvement

Parents, teachers, and other community members discuss results from the 2015 School Climate and Connectedness Survey during Community Night on Aug. 17. (Photo by Laura Kraegel, KNOM)
Parents, teachers, and other community members discuss results from the 2015 School Climate and Connectedness Survey during Community Night on Aug. 17. (Photo by Laura Kraegel, KNOM)

Jenni Lefing says a survey means nothing if it just sits on a shelf. That’s why she’s been all over Nome, sharing the results of the Alaska School Climate and Connectedness Survey.

Lefing is a community engagement educator with the Association of Alaska School Boards, which designed the statewide survey to measure how students and staff feel about the environment at school.

“If students and staff feel safe at school, if they feel respected, if they think that students and other people in the community care about them — then the research shows those students are more likely to graduate and be successful at school and after school,” Lefing said.

Nome Public Schools has administered the survey since 2011. But this year, they’ve shared the results more widely than ever before.

Families dove into the data during Community Night at Old St. Joe’s. Teachers reviewed the results during their in-service days while the school board went over the report at a special work session. Community organizations got involved too — from Kawerak and Checkpoint Youth Center to Nome Eskimo Community and the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation.

The results show Nome Schools have improved in several areas since last year. Students report more positive attitudes about safety, school leadership, student involvement, and their relationships with peers. The staff survey indicates improvement across all measures of school climate.

“Each year, I feel like we’re just getting that much more involved and that much more support — more engagement from staff members, more engagement from students. So it’s been really neat to see something build from the ground floor,” said Kaley Slingsby, the community engagement advocate at Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High School.

In partnership with AASB, Slingsby works to grow student leadership and connect Nome Schools to the community. Students eat lunch with elders at the XYZ Senior Center, train in bullying prevention, mentor younger students, and sit on the Sitnasuak Elders and Youth Committee.

But the survey shows there’s room for improvement too. For instance, fewer students felt supported by adults this year — and 26 students reported they had “given up on school.” That’s just eight percent of surveyed students, but school board member Jennifer Reader says it’s still too many.

“That’s concerning — that that many kids have given up on school. Because our goal here obviously is to make sure that we have every student graduate and want to be here,” Reader said.

Slingsby said the goal is to make the school a positive place for everyone — students who excel, students who are at risk, and the staff members who work with them. Using the survey data, parents, teachers, and community members brainstormed ways to improve school climate. Ideas included bringing more community speakers into the classroom, matching students with adult mentors, and making time to build relationships outside of academic lessons.

Nome Public Schools is still working with the survey data, and Slingsby is creating a community engagement plan for the upcoming school year, which starts Aug. 24.

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