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APS special education survey finds ‘very low’ employee morale

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

While special education resources affect a large portion of Albuquerque Public Schools students – nearly one out of every five – many of the teachers and staff providing those services say they are feeling undervalued and overworked with “very low” morale.

A 73-page survey report – commissioned by APS and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation union – details responses from 402 teachers and staff from special education departments across the district about their work lives.

It’s a project that cost over $16,000, according to ATF President Ellen Bernstein, and had some revealing statistics, such as 45 percent of teachers and staff don’t feel APS’ special education department is an effectively managed and well-run department.

Morale, workload

The report addressed topics such as culture, communication, management and job satisfaction.

Only 13 percent of participants agreed that morale was high, and just 28 percent felt they had the chance to participate in decisions that affected their jobs.

“Many teachers and staff members do not feel as though they are valued by APS or as an employee in the special education department,” said the survey’s executive summary from Research & Polling Inc. of Albuquerque.

Superintendent Raquel Reedy wrote in her weekly note to the APS community Aug. 24 that she has seen the results of the survey and will analyze them further. But she said ATF and the district are putting together a committee made up of special education staff to help improve morale.

The report also states that many special education teachers and staff see their workload as too much, with 45 percent disagreeing they have a suitable amount of duties.

“Many of the comments given by teachers and staff relate to the extra time they must spend on mandated paperwork … and the lack of compensation they receive for the additional time they spend on these tasks,” the report says.

It’s not just too much paperwork that is impeding their work, the survey reports; “constant changes” in policies also make it hard for people to do their jobs well, according to 74 percent of responders.

And it’s no secret from their supervisors, according to the survey, as 61 percent of the special education staff felt their immediate supervisor had a good understanding of that heavy workload. Only 33 percent felt those on the management and administrative level had a good grasp of the workload.

In her letter, Reedy, who started her career as a special education teacher, acknowledges the hard work of teachers and staff.

“Our special education teachers and staff need to know that they are appreciated, their work is valued, and they are making a difference,” she wrote. “So, when I heard not long ago that some of our colleagues weren’t feeling that way, we knew we needed to look further into the matter.”

According to the survey, which was conducted in June and July, only about two-fifths of special ed teachers and staff would recommend APS as a good place to work.

But the majority surveyed did say that they plan to still be working with APS in five years.

The results come at a time when the district is on the hunt to fill 160 special education teacher openings – weeks into the school year – and the district has continuously said they are among the hardest positions to fill.

‘Need improvement’

Communication was also a topic of the survey that didn’t fare well.

The majority of teachers and staff didn’t feel communication about priorities and policies, changes that affect their work, and decisions made by administrators was clearly conveyed.

“It would be good if mandates were in writing and done with enough notice for the staff to be trained. We need more consistency from the district to the schools and it’s important for APS to focus on the importance of teachers and that teachers matter,” one of the survey responses said.

Half of teachers and staff surveyed disagreed there was good collaboration between administration and employees on best practices.

Overall, the report concluded “communication practices among employees, their department, and APS as a whole need improvement.”

Reedy said the district asked the Council of the Great City Schools to visit APS to review procedures and share best practices from other large urban districts.

On the plus side

But the survey also showed that the vast majority of employees – 85 percent – felt they had a meaningful job. And 74 percent are satisfied with the type of work they are doing.

Another highlight of the report was that 81 percent of responders felt their supervisors treated them with respect; when asked about whether administrators do, that number goes down to 58 percent.

And 70 percent felt they were able to communicate effectively with supervisors. Nearly the same amount felt comfortable reporting problems.

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