Results from the Listening & Learning Sessions and Survey

During his first 100 days as superintendent, Dr. Watlington conducted 90 “Listening and Learning” sessions with 1,963 participants. Some sessions were held online, and others were held in person across the city. In addition to the feedback sessions, all stakeholder groups were invited to participate and/or to share feedback via a survey that contained three open-ended questions. There were 902 survey participants. Dr. Watlington heard from students, parents/guardians, teachers, school leaders, school-based staff, assistant superintendents, Central Office staff, business and philanthropic leaders, and advocacy and community groups. For more information about how the feedback was analyzed, please see our Listening & Learning Results FAQs.

90

Listening & Learning sessions

1,963

Listening & Learning session participants

902

Survey participants

Survey participants provided feedback on what they thought was going well, what needed to be improved, and what Dr. Watlington's first priority should be.

Question 1

When you think about SDP, what is one thing you think is going really well? (n=829)

Staffing (n=197)
Academics (n=125)
Nothing going well (n=101)
Communication & engagement (n=80)
Diversity, equity & inclusion (n=59)
School climate & safety (n=46)

Question 2

When you think about SDP, what is one thing that needs the most improvement? (n=892)

Staffing (n=204)
Central Office (n=179)
Communication & engagement (n=170)
School climate & safety (n=147)
Facilities (n=137)
Academics (n=119)

Question 3

What do you think Dr. Watlington’s first priority should be? (n=877)

School climate & safety (n=201)
Communication & engagement (n=196)
Staffing (n=172)
Central Office (n=141)
Facilities (n=124)
Academics (n=88)

See below for more information about these categories.

Survey responses varied by stakeholder group.

School staff who responded to the survey said:

Staffing (n=131)
Academics (n=97)
Nothing going well (n=53)
Communication & engagement (n=48)
School climate & safety (n=29)
Diversity, equity & inclusion (n=28)

Central Office staff who responded to the survey said:

Staffing (n=28)
Central Office (n=19)
Diversity, equity & inclusion (n=17)
Academics (n=12)
School climate & safety (n=9)
Nothing going well (n=8)

Students, families, and community members who responded to the survey said:

Nothing going well (n=41)
Staffing (n=39)
Communication & engagement (n=29)
COVID response (n=20)
Academics (n=17)
Diversity, equity & inclusion (n=14)

School staff who responded to the survey said:

Staffing (n=138)
Communication & engagement (n=116)
School climate & safety (n=105)
Central Office (n=102)
Facilities (n=87)
Academics (n=76)

Central Office staff who responded to the survey said:

Central Office (n=61)
Staffing (n=44)
Communication & engagement (n=27)
Diversity, equity & inclusion (n=9)
Academics (n=8)
School climate & safety (n=7)

Students, families, and community members who responded to the survey said:

Facilities (n=43)
School climate & safety (n=37)
Academics (n=34)
Communication & engagement (n=27)
Staffing (n=23)
Funding & resource distribution (n=23)

School staff who responded to the survey said:

Communication & engagement (n=141)
School climate & safety (n=136)
Staffing (n=119)
Central Office (n=89)
Facilities (n=81)
Academics (n=58)

Central Office staff who responded to the survey said:

Central Office (n=42)
Communication & engagement (n=29)
Staffing (n=27)
School climate & safety (n=16)
Facilities (n=9)
Academics (n=7)

Students, families, and community members who responded to the survey said:

School climate & safety (n=50)
Facilities (n=35)
Communication & engagement (n=27)
School selection, pathways & options (n=27)
Staffing (n=26)
Funding & resource distribution (n=25)

Nine major topics were identified by analyzing the survey and listening session feedback.

The nine topics below are listed in order of how often they were mentioned in the surveys and listening sessions. Most topics have several subtopics. For example, the School Climate & Safety topic was mentioned 1,176 times and encompassed five subtopics. Click on the plus sign next to each subtopic to see how many times it was mentioned and to learn more about what was said. For information about how the feedback was analyzed, please see our Listening & Learning Results FAQs.

1 | School Climate & Safety

Summary

There were 1,176 comments about School Climate & Safety.

  • There are insufficient staff to meet students’ mental health and socioemotional needs, especially given trauma related to COVID, addiction, and violence in neighborhoods.
  • Students explained the importance of positive relationships with staff and their peers.
  • Physical safety in schools is hampered by inadequate staffing and security measures.
  • Many teachers are frustrated by a lack of alternatives to suspensions to ensure students have appropriate consequences for behavioral issues.
  • Students’ basic physical needs are not always met; they need healthy, appetizing foods and opportunities for physical activity.

Mental Health & Socioemotional Support

There were 483 comments about Mental Health & Socioemotional support.

  • The trauma caused by COVID and gun violence has increased the need for mental health and socioemotional support.
  • There are insufficient staff to meet students’ mental health and socioemotional needs.
  • Strong relationships between students and adults at school are critical for students feeling supported emotionally and intellectually.

Physical Safety & Discipline

There were 359 comments about Physical Safety & Discipline.

  • Students, families, and staff at schools in neighborhoods where gun violence and addiction are prevalent shared their experiences of not feeling safe going to and from school.
  • Understaffing was raised as a factor undermining some schools’ ability to maintain order and security.
  • Issues with doors, keys, locks and cameras make people feel unsafe in schools.
  • Many teachers are frustrated by the lack of alternatives to suspensions to ensure consequences for student behaviors; however, perspectives on what to do about this varied widely.

Student-School Staff Relationships

There were 242 comments about Student-School Staff Relationships.

  • When students were asked what makes them feel safe and supported in school, they talked about the positive impact of having strong relationships with adults who care about them on a “human” level, and who are empathetic, patient, and understanding about their lives.
  • Students spoke about the importance of adults listening to what they have to say and what they need, and keeping what students tell them confidential.
  • Students need to feel respected by all staff members. When staff speak rudely to them, students lose trust in them.
  • Stakeholders recognized the need for more school-wide (tier one) efforts to meet students’ needs, such as structured times that facilitate positive student-school staff relationships (e.g., community meetings, restorative circles, race dialogues, etc.).

Physical Health & Nutrition

There were 107 comments about Physical Health & Nutrition.

  • Providing students with healthy and appetizing food in school is necessary in order for them to be ready and able to learn–this is particularly true for our students that deal with food insecurity at home. Not all schools are currently meeting this need.
  • Multiple barriers prevent students from having adequate opportunities for physical activity, namely during recess and Physical Education (PE).
  • Stakeholders also recognized the need to support and expand health services and screenings in schools.
  • In some schools, additional supports for students such as menstrual products, access to water, clean clothes, and outdoor time is needed. Some staff also mentioned needing more transition time for bathroom needs.

Student-Student Relationships

There were 59 comments about Student-Student Relationships.

  • Students explained that other students’ negative behaviors can be distracting, particularly in the classroom, which makes learning difficult.
  • However, when students have positive relationships with their peers, it makes them happy and can encourage them to come to school.

2 | Staffing

Summary

There were 1,025 comments about Staffing.

  • Stakeholders frequently expressed appreciation for hard-working and caring staff, highlighting that despite staffing challenges, dedicated employees are a key strength.
  • Insufficient and inconsistent staffing is a challenge for virtually all SDP priorities, including:
    • Collaborative school team planning
    • Meeting student socioemotional needs
    • Ensuring school safety and cleanliness
    • Building and sustaining school staff relationships with students and families
    • Staff morale and well-being
  • School staff attribute poor morale and retention to multiple issues including insufficient staffing, unsupportive leadership, lack of respect for teachers, and unreasonable demands on their time.
  • Staff called for more differentiated and school-based professional development (PD) addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), inclusive of support staff.

Retention & Morale

There were 421 comments about Retention & Morale.

  • The Retention & Morale sub-theme overlapped with many other themes and sub-themes such as vacancies, facilities, safety, and time constraints, showing how multiple dimensions of employees’ experiences can contribute to how they feel about their job and whether they choose to stay.
  • One overarching theme about morale is that teachers and support staff do not feel respected as professionals.
  • Staff felt more positive recognition and interactions would increase morale.
  • Teachers spoke to how their school leadership can have both positive and negative impacts on their morale.
  • Compensation, remote work options, and parental leave were also highlighted as important for retaining employees.

Vacancies & Allocation of Staff

There were 328 comments about Vacancies & Allocation.

  • Teachers and other school staff have highlighted how class sizes and caseloads have reached unmanageable levels, sometimes beyond national standards and frequently worsened by staff absences and lack of substitutes.
  • Insufficient staffing levels lead to insufficient staff release time for planning and collaboration within school teams.
  • Adequate staffing is needed to support key priorities such as safety, socioemotional support, Special Education, and bus transportation.
  • A lack of substitutes results in teachers, counselors, and administrators covering colleagues’ classes, leading to burnout and students not receiving needed services.
  • Principals report that budget limitations force them to choose between essential positions.
  • The “leveling” process is a major disruption for schools, and undermines their ability to maintain strong relationships between school staff and their colleagues, students, and families.

Staff Training & Professional Development (PD)

There were 250 comments about Staff Training & Professional Development (PD).

  • School leaders and teachers would like to see more time dedicated to school-based PD as opposed to having the majority of PD time being used for District-wide PD.
  • Staff spoke about the need to differentiate PD sessions for different schools and staff, noting that “one size fits all” PD offerings are less helpful.
  • Many staff highlighted the need for additional PD for non-instructional staff, particularly paraprofessionals and climate staff.
  • Stakeholders would like to see more trainings, PD, and structured school-based conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion issues.
  • There were multiple positive comments about the optional “Tune-Up Tuesday” PD sessions that are offered to teachers by the Office of Teaching and Learning.

Time Constraints, Expectations & Demands

There were 127 comments about Time Constraints, Expectations & Demands.

  • Teachers in particular lamented how there is not enough time in the day to complete all the tasks that are expected of them.
  • Both school and Central Office staff noted that schools are overwhelmed with the rollout of too many new initiatives at once.
  • In particular, school staff described the rapid rollout of the new ELA and math curricula, which did not allow for enough time for teachers to engage with it before they were expected to use it in their classrooms.
  • The amount of work that is expected of school staff, combined with a lack of time, supports and resources lead to burnout.

Staff Collaboration & Mentoring

There were 113 comments about Staff Collaboration & Mentoring.

  • Stakeholders spoke about the positive impact of collaborating with their colleagues and how mentoring experiences have been beneficial.
  • There were also many comments about the need for school teams to have more time to collaborate and coordinate, and for this collaborative time to include Special Education and English Learner (EL/ESOL) teachers and support staff.
  • Stakeholders believe that good school leaders support collaboration and shared-decision making among school teams.
  • Stakeholders emphasized that there are many caring and hard working staff.

Recruitment, Hiring & Promotion

There were 100 comments about Recruitment, Hiring & Promotion.

  • Some staff identified a need for new recruitment strategies in order to fill vacancies.
  • Some staff mentioned challenges and delays in the hiring process which affect schools’ ability to fill vacancies.
  • Staff talked about the need to recruit more teachers/staff of color.
  • Responses mentioned the need for greater compensation, particularly for part-time and support staff. Others mentioned benefits, such as paid maternity leave and remote work.
  • Other responses emphasized the need to clarify career pathways and promotion policies and to invest in professional growth of staff.

3 | Academics

Summary

There were 994 comments about Academics.

  • Some teachers believe the curriculum is headed in the right direction, but requires additional materials, training/PD, and common planning time in order to implement well.
  • Stakeholders want consistency; it is challenging when curricula keep changing.
  • Rigorous academic and career programming and co- and extracurricular opportunities should be offered in all schools, especially neighborhood schools.
  • Special Education, English Learner, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs need more support.
  • Grading policies may need revision.
  • Too much standardized testing stresses students out and detracts from instruction, authentic learning, and Socio-emotional Learning. Teachers want more professional autonomy.
  • Students explained that individualized support, caring teachers, hands-on activities, and topics relevant to their lives help them learn.

Curricular Materials, Scope & Sequence, and Academic Frameworks

There were 335 comments about Curricular Materials, Scope & Sequence, and Academic Frameworks.

  • Instructional staff and leaders had both positive and negative reactions to recent updates to the curriculum and academic framework content.
  • Additional and differentiated curricular materials are needed to implement the new curricula well, including physical books.
  • Implementation of new curriculum and academic frameworks was uneven across the District and posed challenges for teachers and school leaders.
  • Clear and consistent curricula are needed across schools; changes in curricula have been too frequent for teachers to implement well.

Special Education

There were 231 comments about Special Education.

  • More support is needed for Special Education, such as curricular materials and consistency from Central Office.
  • More training and time to collaborate is needed for Special Education teachers and other support staff.
  • Policies around identifying and providing appropriate services for Special Education students need to be examined. Stakeholders report that some students may be misidentified.
  • The allocation of staff to support students who require Special Education and related services needs to be examined. More support staff are needed, in particular.

Student Achievement & Academic Supports

There were 225 comments about Student Achievement & Academic Supports.

  • Many school-based staff said the District needs to rethink grading policies, considering grade inflation.
  • Students expressed wanting more time to complete their assignments.
  • Students also explained how it is helpful when teachers take the time to explain things to them one-on-one when they are struggling with material.
  • Stakeholders voiced that SDP has not ensured that all students are where they should be academically.

Instruction

There were 185 comments about Instruction.

  • Teachers (and District staff who work closely with teachers) expressed that the “joy” of teaching is missing when there are too many top-down mandates and a lack of trust in teachers’ professional judgment.
  • Teachers and school leaders feel more time is needed for common planning and collaboration.
  • Teachers reported mixed feelings about professional development on instruction.
  • Students want hands-on activities that are relevant to their lives, not packets or textbook assignments.
  • Students explain that having trusting relationships with their teachers help them learn.

Extracurriculars & Enriching Opportunities

There were 109 comments about Extracurriculars & Enriching Opportunities.

  • Stakeholders see extracurriculars as important for student engagement.
  • Students and adults explain that extracurriculars give students important opportunities to build relationships with adults and other students, which is important for their socioemotional well being.
  • Respondents note the need to expand options and opportunities for students to participate in extracurricular activities, particularly for students attending neighborhood schools and those that have after-school commitments.
  • There were comments specifically about ensuring that middle school students have access to athletics.
  • Some students face barriers to participation, including safety and transportation.

Testing/Assessments

There were 86 comments about Testing/Assessments.

  • Stakeholders explained that too much standardized testing takes up time in the classroom that could be better used for authentic instruction.
  • Students and teachers reported that taking tests and assessments is a stressful experience for students.

English Learners

There were 76 comments about English Learners.

  • Many staff feel that multilingual families are not prioritized in the district, although translation services are appreciated.
  • More support and prioritization is needed for newcomers.
  • Support is needed in differentiating grade-level instruction for English Learners.
  • More staff are needed to cover instruction and required testing.
  • Bilingual Counseling Assistants (BCAs) were seen as an invaluable asset to schools and families want more of them.

Course/Program Offerings

There were 52 comments about Course/Program Offerings.

  • Stakeholders recognize that not all students have access to rigorous courses, particularly Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and honors level courses.
  • Students would like access to a wider variety of courses and electives that are more aligned with their interests, relevant to their lives, and prepare them for their future.
  • Stakeholders believe CTE and dual enrollment programs are beneficial for students and would like to see them expanded.
  • Arts and music classes should be available to all students, each year.
  • Stakeholders believe that the school selection process would be less contentious if there were more equity in course and program offerings in neighborhood schools.

4 | Central Office

Summary

There were 817 comments about Central Office.

  • Decisions feel abrupt and are often made without collecting stakeholder input first, contributing to a sense of “disconnect” to schools. New initiatives typically lack solid implementation plans.
  • Central Office is too siloed, its organizational structure is unclear, and its employees lack accountability mechanisms.
  • Stakeholders want timeliness and clarity in communications, especially about changes to school logistics.

Leadership & Decision-making

There were 386 comments about Leadership & Decision-making.

  • There is a broad sense of disconnect between Central Office leadership and school-based staff, students, and families, which leads to a lack of trust for Central Office and a sense of “us versus them.”
  • Decisions feel arbitrary and sudden, “top-down,” more like a “dictatorship than a partnership.” Stakeholders often do not understand the rationale; there is a sense that many decisions have not been strategic or informed by school-based perspectives.
  • Instead, decisions should be consistent and grounded in shared values.
  • When feedback is sought, it often feels like only “lip service” or performative, and not a true opportunity to provide meaningful input.
  • Central Office lacks clear accountability structures. Some departments have good leadership, delegate and prioritize well, and work well with schools and other offices. However, other departments should be evaluated for competent leadership, adequate staffing, overall functionality, and effectiveness.

Internal Coordination & Functionality

There were 190 comments about Internal Coordination & Functionality.

  • Departments are currently too siloed and disconnected. Offices too often do not seem to communicate or coordinate well with one another or with schools.
  • Central Office lacks a clear organizational structure that is accessible to school staff and parents. There is mixed messaging and uneven support for schools. School staff and families do not know who to contact or how to get in touch with the right office or person when there is an issue. Understaffing at Central Office is sometimes why.
  • There are not usually clear, realistic, and detailed implementation plans for new initiatives, programs, and policies. It feels like Central Office is often “building the plane as we’re flying it.” When new programs and initiatives are started too frequently, the lack of consistency feels like incompetence, like Central Office doesn’t know what it’s doing or doesn’t have a good plan. More cross-departmental coordination is needed.

5 | Communication & Engagement

Summary

There were 817 comments about Communication & Engagement.

  • True community engagement is not just collecting feedback but using it and closing the feedback loop around how it was used to inform or make decisions.
  • Communications from the District to families are unclear and not timely.
  • Parents’ past relationships with the District contribute to their distrust.
  • Central Office is not responsive to families, as calls and emails to Central Office are sometimes not answered.
  • District staff finding out important information from the news feels disrespectful.
  • Stakeholders appreciate Listening and Learning Sessions and want more opportunities to be heard.
  • School-based staff want Central Office leadership to spend more time visiting schools.

School-Family Relationships & Communication

There were 368 comments about School-Family Relationships & Communication.

  • Families and members of the community expressed that the way the Central Office asks for feedback can feel performative because it is not clear whether feedback was considered when making decisions and if so, how.
  • Families lamented that important communications, often about logistical issues, are made last minute and can be unclear. Efforts to contact someone at the District are frustrating when calls and email are not answered.
  • Stakeholders also acknowledged that a lack of trust between families and the District is often the result of their past experiences.
  • There were many comments specifically about the proposed change to school start times.

Listening to, Visiting & Learning from Stakeholders

There were 326 comments about Listening to, Visiting & Learning from Stakeholders.

  • Stakeholders appreciate the Listening and Learning Sessions and would like there to be similar opportunities moving forward.
  • School-based staff want Central Office leadership to spend more time visiting all schools in a genuine way, not just as a press event. In particular, school staff would like to see the Superintendent visit schools unannounced, especially those that are not “blue ribbon” schools.
  • Students want more opportunities to have their opinions and experiences heard and be considered in decision making.

Public Relations, Trust & Transparency

There were 242 comments about Public Relations, Trust & Transparency.

  • District staff finding out important information from the news feels disrespectful, causes distrust, and puts school-based staff in a position where they look incompetent and unprepared.
  • Families felt communication around the rollout of the School Selection process for the 2021-22 school year was not transparent and was communicated poorly.
  • Some felt that hiring external consultants undervalues or ignores the expertise that already exists in SDP.

6 | Facilities

Summary

There were 557 comments about Facilities.

  • There were many concerns about the building age and slow remediation of asbestos and lead.
  • Stakeholders say that we need to reconsider processes for responding to large and small-scale work orders and planning for capital projects. Clarity and transparency is needed about how projects get prioritized and who to contact for issues.
  • Stakeholders see a link between building conditions and equity, climate, and staff morale. Teachers described how facilities issues impede teaching and learning.
  • School leaders spend too much time on facilities issues, which detracts from other important tasks.
  • Updates to keys, doors, locks, and cameras are urgently needed.

Capital & Environmental Investments

There were 281 comments about Capital & Environmental Investments.

  • Stakeholders are deeply concerned that lead and asbestos remediation is not happening fast enough.
  • In many cases, buildings need to be air conditioned and electrical upgrades are necessary.
  • Building age and condition impacts teaching and learning. SDP should upgrade and make better use of existing facilities (e.g., pools), wherever feasible.
  • Building age and condition is linked to safety from intruders and active shooters; SDP needs to upgrade classroom doors and locks, fix broken cameras, and teachers should have keys to their classrooms and doors that lock from the inside.
  • Stakeholders want better planning and transparency around capital projects.
  • District staff feel that the work order processes for facilities issues are confusing and inefficient.

Cleanliness & Maintenance

There were 172 comments about Cleanliness & Maintenance.

  • A lack of cleanliness and basic supplies to maintain cleanliness and hygiene are a major challenge in schools.
  • Major maintenance issues are not dealt with easily and in a timely and transparent manner. Processes around work orders and contacting facilities are not clear.
  • Teachers must clean, which takes away time spent planning, grading, etc. Principals spend too much time on facilities-related issues.
  • There are not enough or inconsistent cleaning staff. Staff are doing the best they can but are spread too thin.
  • Stakeholders explained how building conditions impact health issues and staff morale.

7 | Funding & Resource Distribution

Summary

There were 346 comments about Funding & Resource Distribution.

  • Teachers and other school staff have highlighted how class sizes and caseloads have reached unmanageable levels, sometimes beyond national standards and frequently worsened by staff absences and lack of substitutes.
  • Budget limitations force principals to choose between essential positions. The “leveling” process is a major disruption for schools.
  • Consistency and predictability in the budgeting process is needed for school planning. More stakeholder input and advocacy is needed.
  • Coordination between community partners and schools can be improved, both to increase resources that non-profit organizations can provide, and to more equitably direct those resources to schools that need them.
  • Coordination with charter schools could be improved.
  • Some participants pointed out the academic and social-emotional value of libraries and librarians, noting that most have school library programs have been cut in recent years.

8 | Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)

Summary

There were 318 comments about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

  • Some say we are heading in the right direction, but more work is needed.
  • Stakeholders believe that all staff should be culturally competent and anti-racist. In particular, more anti-racist curricula and more PD’s and trainings on DEI topics are needed.
  • School leaders are thinking deeply about how to lead structured conversations about race and racism with their staff. More frequent time to meet (e.g. Common Planning Time) helps ensure that these important conversations can happen regularly.
  • Staff talked about the need to recruit more teachers/staff of color.
  • Many say we need to focus on inclusion practices such as supporting linguistic diversity and revisiting how we identify and support Special Education students, who are disproportionately boys of color.
  • Others talked about the school selection process, as well as the need for more equitable academic and extracurricular programming in neighborhood/catchment schools, facilities issues, and other inequities in the distribution of resources.

9 | School Leadership

Summary

There were 263 comments about School Leadership.

  • Stakeholders say that good school leaders:
    • Collaborate and help their staff develop as professionals by providing a good balance of support and autonomy;
    • Listen and include students, staff, and families in decision-making;
      Communicate well and respond to concerns;
    • Make themselves available and visible in the school; and
    • Protect Common Planning Time and teacher prep time.
  • Good school leadership is an important factor in staff morale and retention.
  • Well-established leaders need more autonomy and trust from Central Office, while struggling leaders need more support and accountability.