Howard High low in job satisfaction

64% of school's employees responding to union survey claim that morale is down

May 27, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

When it comes to employee satisfaction, Howard High School has ranked near the bottom in the county system for the past two years, according to a job climate survey conducted by the Howard County Education Association.

Although test scores have increased and the school has received a much-needed renovation, Howard High employees responding to the survey were among the least satisfied workers at the system's 71 schools.

"Overall, it's in the bottom 10 schools," said Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association.

Fifty-six percent of Howard High employees responding to the 2006-2007 survey said they had witnessed or experienced harassment by a supervisor, the highest percentage of any school in the county, according to DeLacy.

Sixty-four percent disagreed that morale was good, and 79 percent disagreed that the school's atmosphere was open to communication.

The 2006-2007 survey results prompted the union, which represents 5,500 employees in the county, to discuss Howard High employee concerns this year with the school system administration. The association announced the countywide results of the survey last week.

"It's not the only school we are dealing with, but it seems the problems have exacerbated since last year," said DeLacy. Howard High ranked in the bottom 20 schools in the 2005-2006 survey.

DeLacy would not comment on specific concerns at Howard. "I'm sure [Superintendent] Dr. [Sydney L.] Cousin and central office will address those concerns," she said.

In February, Cousin met with the union to discuss the climate survey and some of the concerns at the school. As a result of those talks, Cousin said, the allegations were turned over to the Office of School Administration.

"They [the Office of School Administration] talked to the principal to make sure that they addressed some of the issues raised by the union," Cousin said. "I can't be more specific than that."

Some employees at Howard High say they feel intimidated and not respected by the administration led by Principal Regina Massella, who arrived in 2004.

Cousin said that if the alleged actions by the school's administration are true, they violate the system's policy of fostering a safe and nurturing environment.

"I've never heard these things before," Cousin said, adding that the allegations surprised him. "If it stays at the school level and doesn't reach my office, there is nothing I can do."

Massella said the allegations sound as if they stem from "personal issues" that are a result of changes she has made to improve the school.

"Sometimes it becomes an issue when you hold employees accountable," said Massella, who has led Howard to significant academic gains since she arrived for the 2004-2005 school year.

As a result of the survey, Massella has launched a faculty advisory council, which is intended to improve communications between the administration and the staff. There also have been a several staff meetings to address the concerns revealed in the survey.

Jeff Zarin, the school's PTSA president, is pleased with the changes Massella has made since coming to Howard High.

"I know that the staff has gone through a transition and change since she took over," Zarin said. "When you bring someone in who has some accountability, it does not come as any surprise to me that people would be adverse to that."

Kedre Fairley, a special-education team leader at Howard High, said that changing the academic expectations at a school can scare teachers.

"You have to be ready to change," said Fairley, who worked with Massella at Reservoir. "People get left behind sometimes."

Michael McDuffy, the school's athletic director, agreed that some teachers are resistant to change.

"There is a lot of foot-dragging," McDuffy said. "It is a natural human tendency."

McDuffy said he enjoyed working at the school and described a "great" working environment.

"I like the staff I work with," he said. "I think it starts directly at the top."

High School Assessment test scores in algebra increased from 44.1 percent of the students proficient or better in 2003 to 79 percent in 2006. Biology scores rose to 71.8 percent of the students proficient or better, an 18-point increase during the same span, and government scores have increased 10 points to 81.8 percent proficient or better.

"Our test scores are certainly up, our hallways are quieter, and discipline is [better]," said a veteran teacher who asked not to be named because of possible retaliation. "[But] it is the way it is done. Maybe that's what it took, but I don't think it has to be so intimidating at times."

The teacher said the contentious relationship between the administration and the staff has led to transfers and retirements.

Howard County school system data show that 23 teachers have requested transfers and seven employees have retired since Massella came to Howard High after serving as an assistant principal at Reservoir High.

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