Only half the teachers at Chapel Hill High School said their school was a good place to work and learn, according to a 2014 state survey – well below state and district averages.
The anonymous survey on teacher working conditions, taken every other year, showed CHHS teachers increasingly feel undervalued. One-third said they were recognized as educational experts, down from half two years ago.
That compared with 82 percent of teachers statewide who said they felt recognized as educational experts, and 77.4 percent of the teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district overall.
Teachers at Mary Scroggs Elementary also posted numbers below the state and district average. The numbers were not as low as at CHHS but significantly lower than two years ago. Principal Keri Litwak resigned this month.
The lowest numbers at CHHS were for teachers feeling comfortable raising concerns and issues, and for the respect and trust they felt within the school.
Only 14.3 percent of the teachers there felt comfortable raising concerns, a 35 percentage-point drop from the last survey. That compared with to 72.1 percent of the teachers in the state and 65.6 percent in the district.
Only 13 percent said there was an atmosphere of trust and respect within the school. That compared with 73.1 percent of the teachers in the state and 68.3 percent of teachers in the district.
More teachers did feel the school had a shared vision. In 2012, 18 percent of the teachers agreed with the statement. In 2014, 30 percent agreed.
Although none of the other high schools’ numbers were nearly as low as CHHS, teachers at Carrboro and East Chapel Hill High also expressed disatisfaction with the school leadership – numbers also below the state average.
However, satisfaction with the schools’ learning environment were nearly identical with the state averages of 84.6 and 82.7 percent respectively.
Kim Williams, a parent of recent graduate at Chapel Hill High and classroom volunteer, said teachers feel demoralized.
“A lot of teachers feel like they aren't valued, and a lot of the extra things they might have done in the past aren’t getting done this year,” she said.
Williams has been a parent at CHHS for eight years, with two children graduating four years apart. She said the school has suffered from weak principals in the past decade and a half.
“Some teachers had stepped up and filled the vaccum,” Willams said. “Some of the principals were not able to stand up to teachers and parents. A principal needs to do that. Stand in (for) what they believe, and I just don't think we've had strong principals in that sense.”
“But being strong isn’t enough,” she added.
Williams said the school needed a principal who was supportive too.
Changes in administration
CHHS has had 10 principals in the last 20 years.
Despite the dissatisfaction, only one faculty member requested a transfer from the school this year, according to informaton requested from the school system’s Human Resources Department. CHHS also had a fewer teachers leave than East Chapel Hill High and only two more than Carrboro High, as of June 16.
Chapel Hill High principal Sulura Jackson declined to comment for this story.
Lynn Fox, former CHHS school improvement team president, also declined to comment.
This was Jackson’s first year as principal of Chapel Hill High, after leaving a school she help found in 2008 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Jackson won the state’s 2010-11 high school principal of the year award from the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.
She was recognized for building the school from the ground up, helping to further the education of the school’s students and effective communication with parents.
At a June town hall meeting at CHHS, Jackson talked about the changes moving forward. She told teachers and parents if she can’t turn CHHS around in two or three years, she will step down as principal.
School Board Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford said the superintendent, board and school improvement team will review the survey and figure out how to give teachers more support.
“I think overall you're asking teachers to do so much more with no pay increase in the past five years,” Bedford said. “Teaching is a much more demanding profession that it used to be.”
Bedford said the state’s proposed budget plans aren’t helping with teacher satisfaction either.
State lawmakers have competing plans to raise teacher pay. The House budget proposes average 5 percent raises for teachers, who would not need to give up their tenure to get the increase. The Senate budget included 11 percent raises for teachers who relinquish their tenure.
Both the House and Senate budgets would raise minimum teacher pay to $33,000 a year.
“Combining that with the adjustment when you have a new principal, and when you have a new long-range plan and when you have changes to standards like Common Core, that’s going to be tough on teachers,” Bedford said.
One hundred percent of the teachers participated in the survey at CHHS and ECHH.
Superintendent Tom Forcella said the survey provides excellent feedback and will help the district implement its long-range plan.
“We will be reviewing the data in the coming months with our principals and school teams to determine how we can improve working conditions at all of our schools,” he said in a statement.