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Countywide survey finds Denair least teacher-friendly; Turlock Unified falls in middle
teacher happiness pic
Denair Middle School educator David Rodriguez uses his female Columbian red-tail boa constrictor as a fun and informative teaching aid. Denair Unified was ranked as the school district with the least happy teachers in the county, according to a California Teachers Association survey, something DUSD Superintendent Aaron Rosander finds contrary to the 'energy and spirit' found in classrooms in the District. - photo by Journal file photo

A recent Teacher Happiness Index Survey conducted by the California Teachers Association Office in Ceres that was intended to open the eyes of school districts in Stanislaus County did just that for Denair Unified School District, which was ranked as the worst school district in the county in terms of teacher happiness.

“The survey results released by the Ceres CTA office are inconsistent with the energy and spirit that you will experience if you visit Denair schools,” said Superintendent Aaron Rosander. “Our District is chalk full of positive, robust teachers, most of whom are as surprised as me with the survey results.

“I encourage Ceres CTA officials and others to visit our schools. You will be impressed,” continued Rosander.

More than 5,000 member nurses, librarians, counselors and educators county-wide were given the months of September and October to grade the school district in which they are employed. However, a request by the Journal to obtain detailed survey results, including how many surveys were completed, was denied.

“We are not exposing specifics. We promised anonymity so that people were free to be comfortable and truthful in their responses,” said Terri Pinkney, CTA Regional UniServ staff member. “We have been hearing the areas that teachers are unhappy in and the areas that they are happy in, so we wanted to compare and contrast the behaviors and what happens in each district.

“We want members to feel at ease knowing their responses are anonymous,” continued Pinkney.

While Pinkney was unable to provide specific survey details, she said that the general consensus among Denair teachers was the need for increased health and welfare contributions, as well as a better salary. Teachers in the District said they also felt that the DUSD Board of Trustees’ decision-making process only takes into account what administration wants, and that Board members do not consult with teachers.

“They said that the decision making does not appear to be transparent,” said Pinkney.  “The teachers just want to feel respected and valued.”

Rosander said that he hopes the Ceres CTA office will decide to publicly release all of the reliability and validity data for the survey so that DUSD can better understand the statistical accuracy, efficacy and usefulness of their survey results. In the meantime, he said, everyone associated with DUSD will continue to work constructively together to make sure that Denair schools are the first and best choice for parents, students and employees seeking a small school environment.

“I would be remiss if I did not share how appreciative and proud the Board of Trustees and I are of our teachers. Having taken salary reductions, along with all employees, to balance a previously distressed budget three years ago, I cannot think of a more deserving group of educators and employees who are in line for salary restoration and raises,” said Rosander. “We are diligently working on this very issue, and everyone understands that it will take time to accomplish this imperative task.”

Also on the list was Turlock Unified School District, which landed right in the middle of the Teacher Happiness Index Survey rankings at No. 9 in the county.

“It’s unfortunate to think that there are teachers who are unhappy in our district, however, we’ll continue doing our best to accommodate and support students and staff within a culture that places learning and teaching at the forefront,” said TUSD Interim Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan.

Pinkney said main concerns held by Turlock teachers revolved around compensation, the District’s spending decisions and the process the District uses to make those spending decisions. Turlock teachers also noted the need for meaningful professional development, and enhanced accessibility and instructional knowledge of administrators.

“Teachers in Turlock don’t feel that their input as far as what they need to be successful educationally is being heard,” said Pinkney. “The District doesn’t really consider the value and input of teachers.”

These comments were echoed by Turlock Teachers Association president Julie Shipman, who emphasized the need for teachers to have access to the best technology tools and curriculum available, a safe and comfortable learning environment, and the flexibility to make decisions based on the needs of their students.

Additionally, Shipman said that teachers need a fair contract that is followed by the District, and one that includes competitive salary and benefits. She also noted that TTA is currently at an impasse for negotiations and is still requesting binding arbitration.

“We hope to not only be able to meet with the District on important matters, but to be heard and have our opinions valued and implemented,” said Shipman. “There are simple changes that could be made to our contracts that other districts already have to demonstrate that we are valued and seen as professionals.

“Not everybody is cut out for this job and there is a severe shortage of teachers looming in the near future in our state. If our simple needs and desires are met, we are happy teachers,” continued Shipman.

The Stanislaus County Office of Education earned the highest grades and title “Best School District” to work for in Stanislaus County this year. The CTA office in Ceres said that it intends to conduct this survey on an annual basis.