Though most teachers at New Haven charter schools reported feeling content and supported in their work environment, the majority also said that they could not see themselves pursuing long-term careers in these schools.
Achievement First — a public charter-school network that originated in the Elm City and extends throughout the state of Connecticut and into New York and Rhode Island — compiled a report on school climate by surveying schools’ staff members to discover trends in students’ classroom experiences. The report also sought to uncover teacher and other school professionals’ general attitudes about their experiences in the AF network. In addition, it analyzed suspension and attrition rates in AF schools, which some traditional public-school advocates have criticized for being too high. AF Co-CEO and President Dacia Toll LAW ’99 presented the results of the surveys at AF’s Joint Connecticut Board Meeting on Jan. 27, the first meeting of the calendar year.
The report highlighted Amistad High School senior Arese Uwuoruya — who was accepted to Yale in December and is the first student in her school’s history to apply to Harvard University — as an AF success story.
“I’d say that charter schools have done an exceptional job of setting themselves apart from other schools in the sense that they expect more from their students,” Uwuoruya said. “However, I do think that, since the end goal is college, it can get lost on students and teachers of where they actually want to go.”
Uwuoruya said while students generally feel supported by teachers, they often undersell themselves when it comes time to apply to colleges. She added that most teachers at Amistad High School are supportive and caring.
The highest-rated assessment in the survey, or the statement for which the largest percentage of teachers answered yes, was: “Someone at work cares about me as a person.” 95 percent of teachers surveyed affirmed that they felt cared for at work. The second highest-rated statement, which pertained to teachers feeling supported in AF charter schools, received 88-percent affirmation.
Both of these percentages marked an increase from 2014 survey results, suggesting that more AF teachers are satisfied with the school network’s professional environment this year than last. In 2014, 91 percent of teachers felt they were cared for, and 86 percent felt supported, according to the data.
But while teachers reported feeling supported and cared for, 57 percent still said they could not envision themselves having long-term careers at AF charter schools, while 54 percent did not feel connected to the larger AF network.
“Teaching is emotionally and physically draining,” Toll said at the meeting.
At the meeting, Toll said one major factor deterring teachers from long-term employment at AF schools is the high workload.
She added that working at an AF school is even more difficult than working at traditional public schools because of its extended school year and longer workday.
In addition to compiling data about the teachers’ work environment, the report highlighted a 30-percent drop in student-suspension rates since the 2013-2014 school year. But while the number of suspended pupils has decreased, Toll said suspension rates — which hover around 12 percent — are still too high.
The New Haven Public Schools district has also seen significant decreases in suspension rates, which administrators credit in part to the 2011 districtwide implementation of social and emotional learning curricula, which teaches students how to understand their emotions, foster healthy relationships and make responsible decisions.
“[SEL] is paramount to improving student attitudes and beliefs about self, others and school,” NHPS Director of Student Services Typhanie Jackson said at an October Board of Education meeting.
Jamie Coady, an administrative intern at John S. Martinez Magnet School, said at the October meeting SEL contributed to a 90-percent decrease in suspensions at her school between 2011 and 2015. Truman Elementary School Principal Roy Araujo noted that his elementary school experienced an 85-percent decrease in suspensions.
The first AF charter school, Amistad Academy, opened in 1999. AF now comprises 30 schools in five cities across New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.