School board and Cousin win high marks in survey of employee job satisfaction



A majority of system employees back Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and the current Board of Education while almost half say they are harassed in the workplace, according to the 2005-2006 Job Satisfaction Survey conducted by the Howard County Education Association.

The results, which have not been released to the public by the union, will be shared at Thursday's board meeting, said President Ann DeLacy.

"Our whole goal is to effect change," DeLacy said. "We want to work with the school system so that we can have a positive impact so that people can perform well and that students can achieve at the highest level."

Of the 4,400 employees the union represents, 3,289 completed the 28-question survey, which was distributed in December to support professionals, teachers, guidance counselors, instructional assistants, nurses, social workers and cafeteria workers.

DeLacy said survey participation increased by 50 percent from a year ago.

System employees were asked questions about morale, communication and trust, respect of planning time, disciplinary actions of students and harassment.

"Overall the results show that we are moving in the right direction as a school system," Cousin said.

DeLacy said the survey shows that 84 percent of the employees agree or strongly agree that they have confidence in the leadership exhibited by the superintendent and 71 percent have confidence in the leadership exhibited by the current Board of Education.

Although Joshua Kaufman, chairman of the school board, has read only preliminary results of the survey, he said the board and Cousin have worked hard over the past two years to move the system forward.

"The results of the survey are a result of what we have been doing," Kaufman said.

The survey also shows that 44 percent of employees have experienced or have witnessed some form of harassment or harassing behavior by colleagues, supervisors or parents.

"That's a lot of people," DeLacy said of the harassment results.

Cousin said he was concerned about the harassment results.

"That number is way too high," Cousin said. "I've looked at the survey, and we're particularly interested in questions that deal with the goals of the school system; in particular the system's commitment to provide a safe and nurturing school environment."

DeLacy said other survey results show a general mistrust of system administration; a dissatisfaction with the discipline procedures for students; problems with the relatively new student management system; and a lack of professional treatment of support professionals.

"When people are treated unfairly and their environment is not conducive to their success or the success of their students, they often feel extremely powerless. And one of the ways that you can determine whether this is going on in the schools is by the number of transfers that are granted or completed," said DeLacy, who added that system employees were given the results of the survey Feb. 14 so that they could review the data before the system's transfer deadline of March 1. "People vote with their feet, they leave."

Cousin said that the number of employees requesting transfers has not been tabulated.

"Anecdotally it's no different than what it is any other year," the superintendent added.

Despite the reported complaints, 72 percent of the surveyed employees agreed that workplace morale is good.

DeLacy said that she will share more information with the public in June when she announces the system's top 20 schools according to survey results.

School's leader

The new elementary school in western Howard County might not have an official name, pupils or a mascot, but it has a principal who has been working to make a smooth transition when school starts in August.

Kimberlyn Pratesi, a 16-year-employee with the system, has spent the first few months in her new job leading the new school from three rooms in Marriotts Ridge High School.

There, Pratesi has been busy formulating strategies to hire a staff that will serve an expected 600 pupils.

"I just thought it was a unique opportunity to work with children and families," said Pratesi, who most recently was the principal at Lisbon Elementary. "I had the opportunity to open Ilchester Elementary as a first-grade teacher [in 1996]. I wanted that opportunity again."

The biggest challenge, she said, will be combining the school communities from Triadelphia Ridge and Clarksville elementaries into one.

"I want the children and their parents to feel comfortable," said Pratesi, who has visited pupils at the two schools.

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