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Environmental Activism: Warner Elementary teachers report huge improvements in school atmosphere

June 12, 2013|By Jonathan Kleppinger | jkleppinger@jessaminejournal.com
Graphic by Jonathan Kleppinger/jkleppinger@jessaminejournal.com

When a statewide teacher survey on working conditions came out for the first time two years ago, it threw up red flags on the leadership and the environment at Warner Elementary School. Principal Val Gallutia said then that he wanted to have “frank conversations” to address concerns and make changes. The school’s response over the last two years seems to have worked brilliantly.

In a remarkable about-face from the 2011 results, this year’s results from the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) survey revealed Warner not as a sore thumb but as a bright spot for Jessamine County. Warner teachers reported overwhelming confidence in the leadership, and the 96.2 percent who agreed the school was a good place to work and learn was the highest percentage among all of the county’s schools.

Gallutia had said in 2011 that he was surprised by how low some of the figures were in the first TELL survey — most notably, only 30 percent of Warner teachers agreed that the faculty and leadership shared a vision, and only 27 percent agreed there was an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect at the school. Gallutia said Thursday he was “pleased” but not surprised at the completely different numbers — in 2013, 88.9 percent saw a shared vision and 84.6 percent reported trust and mutual respect.

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“We’ve done a lot of work over the last couple years to address some concerns that were in the last survey, but as an entire school, we did a whole lot more to focus on our mission and our vision and to hone back in more on the goal of our school, that kids come first,” he said.

The average agreement with favorable teacher-leadership statements this year at Warner was 86.7 percent, up from 47.3 percent in 2011. Average agreement with favorable statements about school leadership was up to 88.8 percent from 43.2 percent.

Superintendent Lu Young called Warner’s results the “heartwarming” story of this year’s TELL survey and said she had seen Gallutia lead the whole staff in a turnaround.

“He took those results to heart the first time around,” Young said. “What I saw him commit to very authentically was, ‘I’m going to turn this around; I’m going to really focus on these morale issues, working-condition issues, that my teachers are really concerned about and make a concerted effort to show improvement,’ and they did.”

The anonymous survey occurs every two years and was available to teachers from March 4-29. A total of 28 out of the 45 qualified educators at Warner completed this year’s survey.

Those surveyed backed up Gallutia’s claim that Warner had strategized based on the 2011 results; 90.5 percent of Warner teachers said their school utilized those results as a tool for improvement — 11 percent higher than the district’s overall mark of 79.5 percent on the question.

Gallutia said the school has focused on culture and implemented more team-building, surveys and focus groups. He said the difference between 2011 and 2013 was evident in the hallways of the school.

“There’s definitely much more cohesiveness among the entire staff,” he said. “It’s much more a family atmosphere than we had before, but the biggest thing is that we’re all headed in the right direction; we’re all headed toward the same ultimate goal, and that’s our mission and vision statements.”

The most visible school-wide initiative was the “Wheels for Braden” campaign this year that raised tens of thousands of dollars to purchase a wheelchair van for the family of a first-grader with cerebral palsy. Gallutia said that campaign was not as much an example of Warner’s improvement efforts as much as it was an example of what Warner was capable of because of the efforts.

“I don’t think it ever could have been pulled off two years ago,” the principal said. “I think things like that certainly occur now because of where we are now.”

Warner’s lowest numbers on the 2013 survey were related to facilities, with 18.5 percent of teachers reporting the environment was clean and well-maintained and 29.6 saying the environment supports teaching and learning. The school was built in 1984 with the gymnasium added in 1990, and its comprehensive renovation is Jessamine County’s next big construction project. Gallutia said some teachers who had thought the renovation could begin as early as this summer had been discouraged to learn the soonest it may begin would be early 2014.

“Some of that stuff is things outside of our control — some district things,” Gallutia said. “They’re aware of it, and they’ve made some steps toward doing it by hiring an architect, and hopefully things will get to roll here in this next year and get us in a place where we can get started soon.”

Gallutia said he was glad to see the improvements in leadership categories but that he was most proud that 96.2 percent of teachers put their overall stamp of approval on Warner.

“That’s a big deal; that just means that everybody feels that this is their place,” he said. “When you’re happy where you are, then a lot of things become successful from that.”

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