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S.L. educators get high marks in poll

Salt Lake City School District principals and teachers received high marks in a recently completed survey of 15,000 students, parents and school district employees.

But a third of the high school parents who responded to the survey said they did not know enough about Superintendent Darline Robles to respond whether they respect and have confidence in her."Of the two-thirds who did know, three-quarters said they had trust and confidence in the superintendent," said Joel Briscoe of Insight Research on Friday.

Robles, superintendent since January 1995, said she should work to become more well known in school communities but noted improving the education of district's 25,000 students is her primary responsibility.

"If what I do behind the scenes helps our schools move forward, that's a better use of my time," she said.

High school staff who answered the survey gave Robles a 63.7 percent satisfaction rating and the central office staff a 56 percent satisfaction rating.

As with Robles, 26 percent of the parents of high-school age students said they didn't know enough about the district school board to report whether they have confidence in the seven elected officials who govern Salt Lake schools. Other respondents reported a 67 percent satisfaction level.

School board president Karen Derrick said many parents do not seek out school board members unless they have a problem.

"We make decisions based on what's best for the entire district. We can't make everyone happy. That's not our goal," Derrick said.

Parents and district staff overwhelmingly agreed student achievement has stayed the same the past five years. Nearly a third of high school educators reported that student achievement has worsened at the district's high schools.

Ray Briscoe of Insight Research, the firm hired to do the survey, described the findings as a "very good report card."

"Every school has some work to do and every school is doing some very good things," he said.

Briscoe, who served 12 years on the Davis County Board of Education, said the demographic breakdowns of survey responses revealed two disturbing findings:

- Students who come from single-parent households "see everything a little more negatively to a lot more negatively than those from two-parent homes," Briscoe said. "I lay this out because it's shocking information to me."

- Hispanic students fear for their personal safety. "It's partly traffic and it's partly the climate of the school," Briscoe said.

Briscoe lauded the school district for taking a hard look at itself.

The survey was conducted to develop baseline data for the district's Vanguard Initiative to reshape Salt Lake City schools. The initiative is funded through an Eccles-Annenberg Challenge Grant.

Robles called the effort "courageous."

"I know of no other district in this state that's attempted to ask 15,000 people what they think of (them)," she said.