And the survey says

School District releases results of town-wide survey

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

The Williston School District released its findings last week from an online survey taken in December, where respondents weighed in on issues including the structure of the lower and upper houses, the idea of multi-age grouping and equity in education.

The 22-page Internet questionnaire asked parents, faculty, former students and community members a variety of questions regarding the current system. Survey response was mostly positive regarding the district's lower house structure, multi-age grouping and equity in education. Results were more mixed regarding the district's upper house structure. Respondents also reacted positively to questions about all-day kindergarten.

"We did this as a chance to gain as much information as we could," said Walter Nardelli, Williston School District principal. "We gained a lot from it."

Nardelli, with the help of the administration, wrote up the survey. He also consulted with Dr. Ray Proulx from Bakersfield for design ideas.

More than 750 individuals responded to the survey, including more than 450 parents, and the results have been helpful to Nardelli and the Williston School Board in understanding the district's changing dynamic.

Nardelli said he wasn't surprised by the results and that the comprehensive study was needed to consider changes in the school system for the next academic year.

The survey results also helped Nardelli see where the district can make changes in class structure. With enrollment decreasing over the years, the district has been looking at ways to utilize extra space.

"If we start reducing sections due to declining populations, we have to have a way to do it," Nardelli said. "It can't be that we have to restructure the building every time there are changes in student populations."

Survey comments

Nardelli, in a job that took "over 60 hours," consolidated hundreds of pages of feedback into a handful of comments that best reflected suggestions. Nardelli said that in preparing the comment pages, he tried to show two sides to every issue. It should read like a "conversation" and "capture all the different sides," he said.

A group of Verve House math students from Rick McGraw's eighth grade class helped figure out the percentages from the survey and designed the charts and graphs to go along with the report.

Respondents were most satisfied with the current lower house structures and equity in education between houses, with 81 percent and 77 percent, respectively agreeing or strongly agreeing.

The structure of the upper houses solicited the most disagreement among respondents. On a question of whether fifth graders should continue to be placed in the same classrooms as eighth graders, 57 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the current system.

Many of the positive comments reflected how all grades benefit from a variety of age groups.

"Mixed groupings can encourage younger students to push themselves and be challenged by their peers," one comment stated. "The older students serve as role models and their behavior is improved when they are put into leadership positions. The world is multiage not segregated by age. They are learning skills that they will need in the workforce."

Comments that showed dissatisfaction with the upper house structure spoke to concerns about the maturity levels between fifth and eighth graders.

"My primary worry with my child's transition to 5th grade this year has been with her exposure to more mature situations (lets (sic) face it – a fifth grader is miles younger than an eighth or even a 7th grader)," one comment stated. "I have concerns about her seeing or hearing about things (dating, break-ups, 'crushing,' IM'ing, drugs, sex) that she is not yet mature enough to address or understand. Also hearing about/exposure to things that we will not let her have access to at this point. I think sometimes that middle school would work best as 6-8, elementary as K-5. Better groupings for maturity of kids."

Other comments suggested the structure should be split from the current four-year house model into fifth and sixth grade houses as well as seventh and eighth grade houses.

"We'll consider it," Darlene Worth, School Board chairwoman, said regarding changing the upper house structure. "We have to."

School Board member Deborah Baker-Moody said she supports the current four-year structure.

"It allows for the development of long-term relationships with students and teachers, as well as family and teachers," she said.

The next step

Currently, a subcommittee of the Program Council is going through the results and comments to offer recommendations at a future School Board meeting. At the most recent board meeting, Margaret Munt, a representative of the subcommittee, informed the board there were 10 recommendations in the works. They hope to narrow it down to three or four recommendations that the subcommittee would eventually present.

"We'll try to figure out what it all means," Nardelli said. "No system is perfect. Any change is going to have pluses and minuses. Where do you gain, where do you lose?"

The full results of the survey, including graphs and comments, can be found at the Williston School District Web site: