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December 09. 2013 11:34PM

Nashua survey reveals class sizes as major issue

NASHUA — The Board of Education asked, and principals, teachers, students, parents and residents answered a survey on some of the challenges and strengths of Nashua's schools.

The Ad Hoc Goals and Objectives Committee worked throughout the summer to identify some of the needs within classrooms at different levels with the hope of setting some new district wide goals. Last month, the committee launched an online survey to gather opinions from different groups within the community.

"We now have data that affirms what we've been talking about," said Elizabeth Van Twuyver, a BOE member and committee chairman. "It was a good response, and I was pleased it showed our thoughts were similar to the answers we got back."

The survey was targeted toward principals, teachers, students, parents and Nashua residents, and each group answered a different set of questions. Although responses differed and were sometimes contradictory, there were some clear messages in the answers.

"One of the biggest issues was class size," said Van Twuyver who added that, across the board, those who responded felt it was one of the bigger problems.

Of the 29 principals and assistant principals surveyed, roughly two thirds said smaller class sizes and adequate technology were priorities. The majority of administrators also felt summer school should be required for students whose work is below their grade levels.

Teachers and parents also strongly supported mandatory summer school as well as holding struggling students back a grade when needed.

"Behavior was also an issue for teachers, parents and students," said Van Twuyver, who added that was one of the more surprising results.

A majority of the 442 teachers who responded identified disruptive behavior as a problem in their classrooms although those behaviors were different for students at different levels.

High school teachers said cell phone use, foul language and disrespect for teachers were the main problems, while middle school teachers said bullying was an issue. Of the 460 parents who responded, more than 200 also said bullying was a problem.

A majority of parents also said standardized tests such as the NECAPs only partially reflected their children's knowledge.

Of the 140 residents who responded to the survey, just over half said the Nashua School District makes good use of taxpayer dollars.

The survey also allowed people to make open-ended comments and the Ad Hoc Goals and Objectives Committee received a wide range of feedback from those responses.

Over and over, teachers and administrators complained about Kronos, an electronic time-clock system that was put in place earlier this year. They also frequently mentioned being swamped with email and paperwork that took away time from teaching and helping students.

Parents repeatedly asked about programs for gifted students and more challenging curriculum.

Many members of the community who offered comments used the opportunity to express their opposition to the Common Core standards now being implemented across the district.

Since only 118 out of more than 11,000 students responded to the survey, Van Twuyver said the student responses were not statistically significant. Still, she acknowledged some of the responses and comments were interesting and important.

Students mentioned too much testing, a lack of computers and too much stress. And there were other problems, such as a comment from a student at Pennichuck Middle School.

"Pennichuck says they have a zero tolerance for bullies but that's just not true. Administrators and teachers do little to nothing to help kids who are suffering," wrote the student.

The results from the survey are available on the school district's web site and Van Twuyver said the full Board of Education will review the responses at its meeting on Dec. 16.

"Overall, it was a good experience," said Van Twuyver, who added that people, particularly teachers, were thankful for the chance to weigh in on some issues.

"They liked that we asked their opinions," she said. "I hope the committee will continue on next year, and we can put out another little survey to see how we're doing."


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