A telephone survey conducted in November shows that local schools and Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield are much more popular than the Seattle School Board or the district's central administration.
Seattle residents are pretty happy with the school in their neighborhood and very happy with its teachers, but they’re less sure about the leaders of the city’s public-school system, according to a survey released Wednesday by Seattle Public Schools.
The results also show that residents like the Seattle School Board much less than they like Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield, who unexpectedly announced last month that she wouldn’t seek the top job on a permanent basis.
Enfield, who hasn’t provided any explanation for her decision, declined to comment on the survey. Board President Michael DeBell said she was provided a preliminary copy of the results before her announcement.
Although many are still disappointed with Enfield’s decision, DeBell and other officials praised the survey results as a positive sign for a district about to embark on a search for her replacement.
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They pointed to the fact that 60 percent of those questioned said they had a favorable opinion of the district, while just 22 percent had an unfavorable view (19 percent expressed neutral feelings). When residents were asked about their own neighborhood school, the numbers were even higher: 62 percent favorable, 11 percent unfavorable and 28 percent neutral.
Local schoolteachers earned an 81 percent favorable rating.
But the numbers were much lower for district leaders. Only 23 percent of residents expressed favorable feelings about the district’s central administration, while 32 percent said they viewed it unfavorably.
They appeared evenly split on the School Board, with 33 percent having a favorable opinion and 34 percent an unfavorable one (33 percent neutral).
The survey was conducted in mid-November, before the final certification of results from a School Board election that brought two new members to the board.
“I’m encouraged because there seems to be a fair amount of support for the district, and yet I know that we have a lot of work to do,” said one of the new members, Marty McLaren.
Local education advocates said the results were impressive, given a general climate of cynicism about public institutions.
“You will not find numbers like these for any other school district in the country,” said Frank Greer, who has worked on Seattle education issues for years and noted the Alliance for Education has conducted similar surveys that have found public confidence in Seattle Public Schools is increasing.
This $27,000 telephone survey was conducted by Elway Research and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Board members requested it as they prepared to decide whether the board should offer a permanent contract to Enfield, a decision that has since become moot.
While most residents did not express an opinion about her, Enfield’s favorable rankings were more than four times higher than her unfavorable ones (37 percent versus 8 percent). And the majority of parents and staff members polled in a separate survey were happy with her performance.
Both surveys pointed to “leadership of staff” as the single most important characteristic in the district’s next superintendent. Nearly 25 percent of those in the telephone survey identified that as the most important quality. “Clear vision” finished second with 21 percent, while education background (17 percent), communication skills (11 percent) and classroom or management experience (8 percent each) all performed well.
Just 21 percent said it was essential for the next superintendent to have knowledge and awareness of Seattle and Washington state.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.