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  • Megann Horstead

On school culture, climate and learning conditions at Tinley Park high schools


From the 2016 presidential campaign season to national news coverage, cases of sexual harassment and bullying have received a wave of media attention and forced workplaces in the public and private sectors to re-examine their policies.

In recent months, Consolidated High School District 230 dealt with the issue locally, with claims lodged against its athletics director by a Stagg High School cheerleading coach coming to the forefront during a series of open meetings. During a recent phone interview, Andrew High School Principal Bob Nolting was asked whether that case led school officials and staff to consider evaluating the overall school culture, climate and learning conditions provided to students in his building. He declined to comment. Those taking action to prevent community youth in Tinley Park from suffering at a time when cases of sexual harassment and bullying are often in the spotlight are the administrators and staff at Tinley Park and Andrew high schools.

Tinley Park High School Assistant Principal Wendy Bumphis said the school wants to ensure community that students are in good hands.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said, referring to the school culture established in the building. “[To] all our families and students, we provide opportunities, and they take advantage of them. We have resources to address the social-emotional needs. If teachers can’t help, they can see a counselor. If it’s social-emotional or college/career [-centered,] we try to connect them with people to address it.”

Tinley Park High School utilizes the state-mandated 5Essentials Survey to help guide its efforts to drive school culture, climate and learning condition. This assessment aims to gauge community input about the school at a macro level and how they fit into it.

In 2017, the results show that community participation fell short of the state averages.

A response rate among students amounted to 53.1 percent, compared to the state average of 75.3 percent. The same case holds true of the 73.3 percent Tinley Park High School teachers who participated, compared to the 80.3 percent state average. As for parents, the survey garnered a 12.1 percent response rate, whereas the state average is 15.3 percent.

“It’s concerning because of the involved families, I don’t know if it got out to enough them,” Bumphis said, referring to the 5Essentials Survey participation. “We must work harder to establish a partnership with students and their families.”

Results of the 2017 5Essentials Survey show that as a whole, Tinley Park High School is performing partially in line, as opposed to moderately, with Illinois and similar schools’ averages.

The school’s overall performance is based on five measures, with attention to ambitious instruction, effective leaders, collaborative teachers and involved families. In those areas, Tinley Park High School achieved scores delineating average implementation or less implementation out of the underlying concepts used to assess school culture and climate.

“The less effective [areas] are concerning,” Bumphis said. “We have to explore where these feelings are coming from and work on it.”

Bumphis said she could not give credit to the 5Essentials for serving as a credible gauge of school culture and climate.

“We don’t know if all the parents can complete the survey,” she said. “We can’t tell if there’s bias. Who are we reaching?”

Bumphis acknowledged that 5Essentials is a resource to use and it’s worth having that reminder of what can be done to better support students and stressed that they have a solid plan in place for academics, safety and noise.

“We have a good handle,” she said. “It’s not a problem.”

Nolting acknowledged that Andrew High School is focused on academics and preparing students for life after high school and said they would be remiss if they did not help equip students with life skills to figure out how to adapt, have persistence and self-identify their strengths and weaknesses.

The school prides itself on its efforts to hold assemblies, support its advisory program and promote professional development among staff.

Results of the 2017 5Essentials Survey show that participation of students, parents and teachers across the school’s community surpassed the state averages.

A response rate among students amounted to 83.2 percent, compared to the state average of 75.3 percent. The same case holds true of the 84.6 percent Tinley Park High School teachers who participated, compared to the 80.3 percent state average. As for parents, the survey garnered a 30.3 percent response rate, whereas the state average is 15.3 percent.

Nolting said the school feels comfortable with the rate at which the community is participating.

In 2017, results of the5Essentials Survey show that as a whole, Andrew High School is performing well-organized in line, as opposed to moderately or organized, with Illinois and similar schools’ averages.

The school’s overall performance is based on five measures, with attention to ambitious instruction, effective leaders, collaborative teachers and involved families. In those areas, Andrew High School achieved scores delineating more implementation, average implementation and most implementation out of the underlying concepts used to assess school culture and climate.

“We’ve gotten good feedback multiple years,” Nolting said.

Andrew High School also relies on its Developmental Assets Profile survey to help drive the efforts of its guidance-counseling department. This assessment focuses on the community and their perceptions of the school on a micro level.

“We haven’t had long-term trends identified yet,” Nolting said.

Andrew High School has administered the Developmental Assets Profile twice, to date.

The most recent results are as follows:

  • 62 percent of students on campus feel support is thriving or adequate

  • 64 percent of respondents say that empowerment is regarded on campus as thriving or adequate

  • 61 percent of respondents noted thriving or adequate boundaries and expectations on campus

  • 32 percent of the student body regarded constructive use of time on campus as thriving or adequate

  • 49 percent of students regarded commitment to learning on campus as thriving or adequate

  • 61 percent of respondents refer to positive values instilled on campus as thriving or adequate

  • 61 percent of students feel social competencies are supported on campus as thriving or adequate

  • 43 percent of the student body regards positive identity on campus as thriving or adequate.

“I wouldn’t say it’s overly scientific, but it does give us feedback about how are our students feeling overall,” said Brian Nolan, director of the guidance department at Andrew High School “It gives us basically a climate barometer reading, if you will, about how everyone’s feeling in the school, and then it also allows us to find individuals students who might need extra help.”

Nolting acknowledged that the data from the two surveys do not necessarily connect and said that is where they must dig deeper.

“There’s a lot more happening outside of school,” Nolting said. “Social media, it can be our No. 1 enemy. The dynamics are changing and that’s everywhere. It’s a challenge. Those data points are saying where we are and how can we improve.”

Tinley Park High School does not utilize the Developmental Assets Profile or any other surveys of this type to gauge school culture, climate and learning condition. Instead, they rely on the programs and events they hold in-house.

“We have community coffees each quarter,” Bumphis said. “We go to the communities in which we have students, and we invite parents to talk on their turf.”

The school has a couple community coffees in the coming months, which will be hosted at an area Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. In the past, these events have been held at McDonald’s and similar type locations.

Tinley Park High School utilizes Google surveys to get a sense of how effective their programming is.

Students have a number of outlets in extracurricular areas to get their needs met and be involved in the school and greater community, whether it’s through the Gay Straight Alliance, Operation Snowball or other type of groups.

“Many students are two to three sport athletes and members of many clubs,” Bumphis said. “We have many activities as a smaller school to meet the needs of students.”

In the guidance-counseling department, students have an opportunity to work with their assigned counselor throughout the course of their four years. Topics addressed in their sessions include career readiness, the financial aid process, college and career exploration, goal setting, course selection and final exam preparation. There, students are met with at least once a quarter.

“They meet more regularly with upperclassman as they enter their junior and senior years,” Bumphis said.

If students, for example, need their social-emotion needs met, there are social workers on staff to work with them. They meet with students as groups and individually.

“When things happen in society, we try to engage them,” she said. “If, for example, a suicide occurs, we respond with those resources. Even if it’s something through the media, we respond through the efforts of our social work.”

Bumphis said anyone who is experiencing a problem is encouraged to use their resources

“We have a system where if they need a social worker, it’s an informal open-door policy they have,” she said. “If friends are aware of a conflict, they can be referred to the peer mediation program. Students have someone to connect with. It could be anybody in the building, whether it’s through the teachers, administrators or social workers. If teachers aren’t able to help, it’s our collective effort to make sure needs are met.”

Over the last year, the advisory program at Andrew High School has seen some changes.

Nolting said this is not a direct result of these survey findings, but the school is continuously looking for ways to enhance the direction of its guidance-counseling department.

“We created themes,” he said. “Classes were not talking about the same things. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t allow us to reach across advisory groups.”

The groups are typically led by two teachers, and students meet with them once a week to help drive the school’s commitment to building positive school culture, climate and learning conditions.

“We do lots of different activities during advisory time where counselors and social workers… are going into advisories and speaking to how they can find supports in the areas they should be cognizant of,” Nolan said.

Additionally, Andrew High School has implemented an online platform as a way of introducing audio-visuals and encouraging greater discussion.

“If there’s a student that’s being bullied or harassed, it’s something we take very seriously,” Nolan said. “We believe we have a high level of supports in the building and that students, their friends, and their family members are very quick to make us aware of concerning situations, so we can act quickly and make sure that students are safe and feeling supported at the school.”

#education

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