The 2016 Ann Arbor Public Schools Climate Survey

. October 1, 2016.
Karen Sendelbach, local lawyer and 
concerned parent of AAPS student.
Karen Sendelbach, local lawyer and concerned parent of AAPS student.

Released this summer, the 2016 Ann Arbor Public Schools School Climate Survey Report highlighted many positive aspects of people’s feelings about AAPS, but left room for improvement in the district as well.

K12 Insight partnered with Dawn Linden, executive director, elementary education to develop the 2016 School Climate Survey which primarily addressed the topics of: academic preparation, student support, parent engagement, safety and behavior, and school operations. In total, 15,716 parents, students, and staff members responded to the survey.

The majority of stakeholders rate their school with a “A” or “B” in most areas, which translates to stable or improved ratings from previous years. For example, school leadership rankings were high from 83% of parent (up from 80%), 87% of staff (up from 83%), while 58% of high school and 69% of middle schoolers have favorable ratings (both improved.)

Interesting insights on AAPS

Karen Sendelbach is a AAPS parent and local attorney. She shared many insights as to some of the results of the survey.

“Adolescents are probably more difficult to please and more critical about their learning environments than younger students,” stated Sendelbach. “Older students are probably also more aware of different educational alternatives and may be measuring their school against other area schools.”

Aspects of the survey that were deemed of ongoing focus and opportunities for improvement included respect for diversity, specifically with regard to sexual orientation and gender or identity, which had the lowest rating among the six areas questions.

“I believe that AAPS has begun the enormous task of teaching sensitivity and inclusion for everyone in our community, but there is so much work to be done,” described Sendelbach. “For example, I was delighted to see non-gender specific bathrooms at Pioneer High School early last year. Creating a community in which all members feel safe, welcome and included will help everyone succeed. Staff and students should also be sensitive to gender-specific words and names.”

Sendelbach added that the administration should be sensitive to creating opportunities for everyone to equally participate regardless of gender.  “I was very happy to see girls involved in middle school wrestling, for example, but there were only a few compared to many boys,” stated Sendelbach. “Everyone should be encouraged to participate in STEM and artistic activities.”

The safety dance

General safety and well-being in the schools still remains a prominent concern with students and parents alike. Bullying, for instance, seems to be a prominent concern, with only 44 percent of high school students reporting that they try to stop bullying when it occurs. The survey also reported lower marks on discipline being enforced fairly. Furthermore, it has been reported that lockdown drills, simulating an active shooter in a school, creates a strong sense of anxiety.

“My children have participated in ‘shooter safety drills’ for as long as they have been in the AAPS, and they have watched their school security be tightened throughout their tenure at our schools,” described Sendelbach. “We should not discount the emotional impact that being taught to hide in a cabinet to avoid being shot in first grade will have on a child’s perceptions about their personal safety, and I wonder if that is too high a price to pay for the drills.” Sendelbach also added that the bigger picture of a violent society can contribute to students feeling unsafe within the schools.

As far as a prominent staff concern highlighted by the survey, only 58 percent of staff found the maintenance of their school satisfactory. The survey provided a useful picture of what is great and what can be improved in our local school district. This is valuable information to start the new school year with.