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Pasco superintendent looks to raise staff engagement

LAND O’ LAKES — Even he acknowledges it’s a lofty goal.

But by this time next year, Superintendent Kurt Browning is hoping the Pasco County school district will have a more engaged workforce, one where positive attitudes result in improved student learning.

“I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that when your teachers feel good about themselves, when they feel good about coming to work, when they feel engaged with their students, they will deliver,” Browning told the school board at a workshop this week.

A Gallup survey of school employees indicates the district has its work cut out for it.

Just 26 percent of Pasco school employees are engaged, meaning they are involved and enthusiastic about their work, according to the survey results. Another 53 percent are not engaged. They do what is required, but don’t feel obligated to go above and beyond the call of duty. And finally, 21 percent are actively disengaged, essentially having lost passion for and interest in their work altogether.

Nationally, the averages are 30 percent engaged, 52 percent not engaged and 18 percent actively disengaged, according to Gallup.

Individual schools, meanwhile, were all across the board, from a low of 2 percent of employees scoring as engaged at Ridgewood High to 70 percent engaged at Pasco eSchool, the district’s virtual school.

Browning said the Gallup results help the district understand where it is so administrators can begin taking steps to foster a work environment where people feel appreciated and valued.

“Then you (will) see engaged teachers, engaged staff and, more importantly, engaged students,” Browning said.

This is the first time the Gallup survey has been done in Pasco, so there’s no previous data for comparison. The survey, conducted in November and January, will be used as a baseline for future surveys. Browning said he wants at least modest improvement a year from now and “my hope is it just knocks it out of the park.”

The survey measured the employees’ level of engagement by asking them to score themselves on 12 statements, such as: “This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow” and “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”

Students in fifth through 12th grade also were surveyed and 53 percent were deemed engaged. Student engagement was measured using statements such as: “My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important” and “I feel safe in this school.” Students also were measured on their hope for the future and their well-being. In Pasco, 52 percent were hopeful and under the well-being category 63 percent were thriving. That compares to national results of 54 percent hope; 55 percent engagement; and 66 percent well-being, Gallup reported.

An engaged school is one where the students are excited, the staff is excited and they feed off each other, said Tim Hodges, director of research for Gallup Education Practice.

“It’s easy for students to check out (mentally) if they pick up that the adult in the room also has checked out,” Hodges said.

He said making significant change in one year, as Browning would prefer, is a daunting task. But it would be possible within three to four years to raise the engaged employee percentage to about 47 percent, the average for Gallup’s client database.

Although the districtwide measure is important, Hodges said the real story is the school-by-school results.

“In reality, you have 70-some stories of engagement, one for each school,” he said.

Those results turned up a few oddities.

Board member Cynthia Armstrong noted that Double Branch Elementary appeared to contradict the notion that teachers must be engaged for students to be engaged.

At Double Branch, 90 percent of students were engaged, but that was true of just 8 percent of school employees.

Hodges said student engagement is almost always higher than staff engagement because they are calibrated differently, but he acknowledged that huge gap at Double Branch makes the school “kind of an outlier.”

Hodges said something else could be happening at Double Branch that makes students excited about learning, but “there is untapped potential with that staff.”

“I wonder how good that school could be if 30 percent or 40 percent or 50 percent of teachers are engaged,” he said.

Some schools scored at uncomfortably low engagement levels. Richey Elementary was at 8 percent, Northwest Elementary and Gulf Middle were at 10 percent, and Ridgewood High barely registered with a 2 percent engagement level.

Peggy Jones, director of the district’s Office for Accountability, Research and Measurement, said she is unsure why Ridgewood would be so low, but she noted the school had been under state scrutiny in recent years because of low student test scores, and that puts pressure on the staff. At Ridgewood, 40 percent of students were engaged.

Schools where staff engagement was 50 percent or better were Connerton Elementary, 50 percent; Odessa Elementary, 50 percent; Trinity Elementary, 50 percent; New River Elementary, 64 percent; and Pasco eSchool, 70 percent.

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