Well over half of student respondents to a survey reported being bullied at Monroe County schools.
That's according to a "climate" survey prepared for the School District by Hanover Research of Washington, D.C., and released to the public on Tuesday.
Among the annual survey's many findings was that 60 percent of the students claimed to have been bullied "either physically, verbally, or electronically (text message, email)" at or outside school. At the same time, while "more than half of teachers report witnessing bullying," the survey showed that "only 20 percent believe that bullying occurs in the classroom."
"Parents and students agree that discipline and security are the greatest problems in MCSD Schools," according to survey results, and the "majority of parents, students, and teachers all agree that it is too easy for unauthorized adults to enter the school."
The survey, which dealt with the 2012-13 school year, was conducted online, and elicited full or partial responses from 646 staff members, 2,247 students, and 314 parents.
Among the key findings:
• "Parents, students, and teachers generally agree the quality of teachers and academic programs in MCSD schools is good" and "all groups most frequently cite teachers as the foremost strength of the district's schools," however, "parents and students voice some strong reservations about the instructional environment," and "around one-third of parents and students state that teachers do not regularly communicate with parents about students progress."
• "The most common and serious concerns raised by all respondent groups deal with bullying, discipline, and security."
• "Teachers express overall satisfaction with working at MCSD, with almost three fourths of teachers ... being satisfied with their jobs," though a similar number aren't happy with their salary and benefits. Most teacher respondents also said they need more time for planning and other routine tasks.
• "Views of administrators are positive, but respondents stress the need for more administrators and greater visibility. Parents and teacher comments identify many excellent administrators yet also note staffing shortages and weaknesses." Teachers, in particular "report a need for more assistant principals to reduce the workload of principals, and maintain orderly schools."
• "Both parents and teachers would appreciate more frequent and substantive communication and engagement with school administrators and the district.
• "All respondent groups hold generally favorable views of school facilities and equipment," however, "around one-fourth of parents and teachers do not believe that teachers have adequate materials to teach effectively. In addition, significant numbers of students and teachers have concerns about the climate or classrooms and the cleanliness of their schools."
• "The primary motivator for parents who consider charter schools are academic excellence and teacher quality" and "only significant improvements in these areas at traditional schools would convince parents to transfer their children to traditional schools.
A press release from Superintendent Mark Porter that accompanied the survey claimed participation in the poll "far exceeded previous survey efforts," but the survey results may be skewed by lukewarm participation rates from groups such as Lower Keys students.
In particular, more than half the student respondents attend either Sugarloaf School, Coral Shores High School, or Key Largo K-8.
In the press release, Porter also expressed "some disappointment" with the low rate of parental response.
However, he said he was "excited to have this more detailed feedback and information available to our leadership team. It will allow us to specifically respond to the concerns expressed, while maintaining the outstanding results that are also identified," he wrote. "This is consistent with our ongoing efforts to seek excellence in all that we do on behalf of students, families and citizens of the Monroe County School District."
On Tuesday, Porter also said that "in that past we did a less thorough and rigorous survey. This time, we did a deeper dive into the realities. You find some affirmations, but also some significant challenges, and you have to be prepared for that when you take on a more rigorous type of survey."
Asked specifically about the bullying issue, Porter said, "It's a figure that draws your attention. It confirms what we know. Bullying is an issue and a challenge in the schools. We wouldn't put as much time and energy into it as we do if we didn't think so. Our efforts to address this issue need to continue, and probably to increase."
District 3 School Board member Ed Davidson, who has been especially candid in his criticisms of many School District policies since his election in November, called the bullying figures "somewhat misleading."
"Any degree of bullying is reprehensible and should be addressed, "Davidson said. "But the percentages in the climate survey are certainly inflated to some degree by the fact that people with an issue and a cross to bear and an ax to grind are bound to speak up more than people who don't have an issue. I doubt that it's 60 percent across the district, but that it exists at all needs to be dealt with."