Lawrence school district survey results show high disengagement among teachers

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A recent district survey revealed that more than three out of five Lawrence teachers generally feel disengaged with their jobs.

Lawrence teachers responded to the fall 2021 survey with higher disengagement compared to a statewide survey and six benchmark districts, according to the results: 46% reported they were disengaged, compared to 34-36% at the state and benchmark levels; and 15% reported they were actively disengaged, compared to 10% at the state and benchmark levels.

To help with staff recruitment and retention, the district adopted two survey platforms, including Educator Perceptions and Insights Center (EPIC) and Panorama Education. The Lawrence school board on Nov. 14 approved a contract with Panorama Education, to be paid from ESSER III (federal COVID-19 relief) funds and not to exceed $176,700 for a three-year agreement, and on Feb. 13 approved a partnership with EPIC.

The 2022 EPIC survey results include responses from 72% of certified staff. The data is based on an engagement index, which states that “engaged teachers tend to embrace teaching as their chosen profession and are committed to it,” according to the report. 

Human Resources Executive Director Kristen Ryan and Assistant Director Megan Epperson during Monday’s school board meeting presented to the board about the past survey as well as ongoing survey efforts.

The EPIC results also showed the surveyed teachers’ levels of satisfaction with a number of factors. High satisfaction with certain factors result in high engagement and retention, according to the report. Lawrence teachers reported high satisfaction with factors such as their relationships with their building colleagues.

However, teachers also responded that they felt low satisfaction with the “district’s attention and approach to supporting staff’s mental health and emotional health,” and with their salaries and potential for salary growth in the future.


As part of the district’s budget reduction plan, with the goal of raising staff salaries, 50 full time middle and high school staff members will be cut next year. 

Michelle Salmans, who previously taught art and graphic design at Free State High School for eight years and is now teaching art at Sunset Hill Elementary School in her ninth year with the district, gave public comment during Monday’s meeting. She spoke both from personal experience and from observing her colleagues struggling. Many, she said, have gotten to the point of leaving the district.

“I stand here tonight disappointed, frustrated and exhausted,” Salmans said. 

“Teachers certainly didn’t make this financial mess; however, they are and will be dealing with the brunt. What will a raise mean when teachers have more to do with less? What do teachers need in addition to the raise? Smaller class sizes: we know our decisions are doing the opposite,” she continued. “Time: we create more time when we have fully staffed schools … I know very personally what depression looks like. I’m telling you this so you understand where I’m coming from when I tell you that our district is depressed. Many teachers, staff, parents and community members have lost hope.”

Ryan said the HR team is just beginning their work to deeply analyze the survey results, and they have many conversations ahead. 

“We are getting started,” Ryan said. “We are still very appreciative to have the data and the support from our staff for taking the survey, so we do think we can make some impact and hopefully some of the very hard decisions that we’re doing — hopefully, on the low satisfaction, will address some of the salary pieces as well.”

Superintendent Anthony Lewis confirmed with Epperson during the meeting that the district would obtain the EPIC survey data broken down by race and ethnicity of the teachers who participated.

“So as we’re continuing to look at what we can do as a district to retain all staff but also looking at our staff of color and recruiting staff of color, that will help us in that regard,” Lewis said.

View the full report from Monday’s meeting at this link.

Administrators met in March to review the data, and they will use it to set their building goals for next year as well as ensure they’re meeting the requirements of Kansas Education Systems Accreditation, according to the report. They will also meet with the district’s unions for certified and classified staff, Lawrence Education Association and PAL-CWA, to review the data with union leaders.

Another EPIC survey is currently being administered to classified staff — paraeducators, food service personnel, custodial personnel, secretaries and more — to evaluate engagement and retention, according to the report. That survey was sent out on March 30 and will remain open until April 19.

The HR team will return to a future school board meeting to discuss the idea of four-day weeks for students as part of recruitment and retention efforts, Ryan said.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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