Results are mixed on Kennewick school safety survey

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 8, 2013 

Kennewick students gave mixed marks about how safe they feel in a recent school survey.

More middle-schoolers said this year compared with last that they have an adult they trust at school, according to the second annual Kennewick School District student safety survey presented Wednesday to the Kennewick School Board.

And schools that last year indicated problems on school buses showed improvements.

But the district lost ground in some areas, particularly in its high schools, and saw some schools show worsening scores with some students feeling less safe on their bus.

The district conducted the survey for the first time last spring. Almost 5,000 students at various grade levels were asked how safe they feel in their classroom, in the lunchroom, on the playground, on the bus and whether they have an adult at school they feel they can go to with concerns.

Overall, most of the scores from the schools were flat or had minimal change.

Assistant superintendents Greg Fancher and Ron Williamson highlighted how more elementary and middle school students indicated they have a trusted adult. A number of schools showed improvement in student comfort on buses, such as at Westgate Elementary School, which saw a 23 percentage point improvement.

Other elementary students, however, indicated they felt less safe. Eastgate, Ridge View, Sunset View and Washington elementary schools saw several percentage point drops. Feelings of safety on the bus dropped by 22 percentage points at Lincoln.

Fancher said the installation of more cameras on buses this summer, in time for the next school year, as well as a proactive campaign for students to report bullying on the bus, is expected to address the problem.

"Looking at the schools I can almost tell you which bus route it is (having problems)," he said.

The high schools lost ground in every safety category compared to last year. Most of the scores were still favorable, administrators said, but bus safety went down as did student acknowledgment of a trusted adult.

"We're going to have to keep that a focus and talk to kids about why they don't feel they have an adult they can talk to," Williamson said.

Administrators told board members school principals would be review the data and figure out how to make students feel safer.

Board members Ben Messinger and Heather Kintzley indicated there should be a way to get more detailed feedback from students such as through interviews or the ability to explain responses on the survey. Administrators said they'd look at that possibility for the survey next year.

"It points out that a challenge to this is that a single event can affect how you feel," Fancher said. "And it may not have happened at your school."

Also Wednesday, board members agreed to limit high school early release days to eight per year for the next school year, but students will get out earlier on those days than they currently do.

Administrators had recommended the change to give school principals a bigger chunk of time to work with their staffs on professional development.

An informal online survey aimed at district parents indicated that about 60 percent of respondents would support the change to a 10:30 a.m. early release for high school students about once per month.

Williamson said there was some criticism of the proposed change with some respondents saying they didn't see the reason for students to have such a short school day and that it would cause more disruption. Administrators also said there could be some difficulties with serving lunches on those days and running bus routes.

"But I do know that high school principals feel strongly they need quality professional development time," Williamson said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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