Majority of children in elementary schools appear happy with their education, but students in middle and high schools seem to want something better, according to a school climate survey.
Half of the comments made by children in the five elementary schools were positive in nature, while a third were negative and a sixth were neutral, according to a Darien Times analysis of the 700-plus page survey results. Tokeneke and Hindley students appear to be the happiest with their schools, while Ox Ridge and Holmes students appear the most frustrated.
“This school has a Blue Ribbon for a reason,” one Hindley student wrote. Everyone “in it is hard-working, understanding and kind. Hindley School is a great place to get an education.”
Hindley’s principal, Rita Ferri, has also been consistently praised for her exemplary leadership by parents and Hindley staff, according to survey results from those parties.
“Rita Ferri does an excellent job of keeping the parents in the ‘know’ while creating a nurturing, happy and safe environment at the school,” one Hindley parent wrote.
At Tokeneke, a similar pattern emerged. Here, 66% of student comments were positive, the highest of all seven public schools in town.
“This school is amazing,” one Tokeneke student wrote. The teacher “helps us a lot in subjects we don’t excel in. The number one thing I like about this school is that I feel safe and happy almost all the time!”
Only 27% of Darien High School survey respondents had anything positive to say about that school, with 60% choosing to offer criticism. Roughly an eighth of the respondents made neutral comments, in which they offered both praise and criticism. A high number wrote comments that didn’t pertain to the survey. These results were not included in The Times’ reporting.
The most common complaint made by respondents from all five elementary schools included poor school lunches and dirty bathrooms. Many students also discussed the need for better temperature control, stronger bullying enforcement, and enhanced bus management.
At the secondary schools, consistent complaints included poor teachers, boring classes, bullying and snobbery and elitism among some students. Below, The Times looks at ups and downs from each elementary school, as per the student survey. Click on the heading to view the survey for that school
Most Hindley students appeared happy with their education, although at least seven respondents complained that the cafeteria food was unhealthy and of poor quality.
“I honestly think the cafeteria lunches [should] be healthier,” one student wrote, with another adding that “sometimes people get sick from the food we are served.”
“I also believe we should be treated with food that is good and not” processed, the student continued.
Several students commented that they feel they shouldn’t have to raise their hands during lunch if they want to throw garbage out, and that aides sometimes ignore them when they raise their hands.
Other students complained of being teased and bullied and not knowing what to do about it. Some commented on the need for air conditioning, and two criticized the six-day rotation schedule. Others noted that the bathrooms need more regular cleaning.
Typical complaints that most elementary-aged children would make include less homework and more time for recess. Most Hindley kids, however, noted how much they liked their school.
The “teachers in my school help me with problems that I sometimes have, and all of the adults in the school are there for all of the children when we need” help, one student wrote.
Over at Holmes, Principal Paula Bleakley is overseeing a nearly split student-body, with 40% saying positive things and 43% posting negative comments on the survey. Another 17% posted neutral comments.
The most commonly cited problems are food concerns, bathroom cleanliness and bullies, according to the survey.
Sometimes “kids are mean to me, but there are not a lot of adults I can go to, all they say is, ‘Just figure [it out] yourself or let it go,’ ” one student wrote.
Another commented that the “lunches in our [school] are not that good,” claiming that a friend once found a “fingernail and a hairball in her lunch” and that the chicken patties are “always under-cooked and hard.”
Three students commented on how teachers’ aides at Holmes could be more attentive to students’ needs. Another commented on the bus being crowded, and a few students noted air conditioning was needed.
In “some classrooms it is very hot,” one student wrote. Still others lauded Holmes teachers for creating a positive learning environment.
“I like this school a lot,” one student wrote. “I have an excellent teacher… I think it’s a very safe, fun, educational place.”
Principal Luke Forshaw’s school was the least popular among the town’s five elementary schools, survey data showed. Slightly more than a third made positive comments, while slightly less than half had negative things to say. Another sixth provided neutral comments, offering both criticism and praise.
The top criticism by far at Ox Ridge were school lunches, where at least 13 students commented, with one saying the food is “a little disgusting” and another saying the “food should improve.”
“Maybe we should have more appealing food and then people would buy food,” one student wrote.
A high number of students also claimed that Ox Ridge’s bathrooms were not clean, including one who called them “atrocious,” and another who said they should “be much cleaner.”
Several students noted how cold it was during the winter. Ox Ridge went without heat for months during one of the coldest winters in recent history, and Board of Education members claimed they were not aware of this heat problem until six weeks after it began.
“Our classroom is freezing,” one student wrote. “They said they would fix it but they never did.”
A few students commented on overcrowded buses, and another noted that a bus driver drives recklessly. Several students also expressed desire for more physical activity, and some criticized their foreign language teacher.
Positive comments revolved around gym class, and several students praised their gym teacher. One student noted how Ox Ridge feels like “a second home.”
“I really like Ox Ridge because the teachers all make an effort to give you an enjoyable time,” another student wrote. “The teachers make sure everyone is included and that everyone has a smile on their face.”
At Royle, outgoing Principal Keith Margolus oversaw a school that fell in between the most and least favored elementary schools, survey results showed. Here, slightly more than half had positive things to say, while about a third offered criticism. Another sixth provided neutral comments.
The top complaint at Royle, as at Ox Ridge, was the cafeteria food, where at least 15 students expressed concern. One student said the hot dogs are like “rubber” and another said the food is “unhealthy.”
The students “should have natural food, not [food] that comes from rubber,” one student said, adding that the hot dogs “bounce.”
Another top complaint, as at Ox Ridge, were bathrooms being unclean, with one student saying that “nobody flushes” and another saying they “have gross stuff on the walls.”
Several noted that they would like more physical exercise, and some also commented on the need for better temperature control. One said the rooms are “sweltering” and another urged every classroom to have an AC unit. Five students lamented that bullying is a problem, and one student said a bus driver texts while he drives.
On the positive side, many commented on the quality of Royle’s teachers, with one saying he/she “lucked out” by going to Royle and that the teachers “are the best.”
“I love Royle,” one student began, “and [even] when I am at home I want to be there!”
The most-liked school in town goes to Tokeneke, according to the student survey results. Here, Principal Mary Michelson and her team of teachers were lauded for being caring and creating a fun and warm learning environment.
However, the top concern at Tokeneke, unlike other Darien elementary schools, were problems with bullies. At least nine students commented that bullying is a problem at Tokeneke, with one student writing that he/she gets “bullied a lot” at school, and another saying “there are a lot of bullies in this school.”
Two noted that the older kids tease others a lot, and a few commented on feeling excluded by other students. Two noted that Tokeneke’s food was bad, just as other students claimed at the other elementary schools.
“The cafeteria food is unhealthy and disgusting,” one child wrote. However, at least one person commented on the high quality of the school food.
Some commented on bus problems, where teasing and bullying occur, and another opened up on not being able to talk to a teacher about problems.
Most of the positive comments were related to feeling comfortable at school and having caring and supportive friends.
“This school is awesome and a lot of fun,” one student wrote, with another adding that “I feel my friends are always there for me when something good or bad happens.”
There were 2,577 student-responses to the climate survey, which was taken in the late spring. This number could equal the number of students who completed the survey, although some students may have taken the survey more than once because of its anonymous nature. This would equal 53% of total student body during the 2013-14 school year.
Next week, The Times will have a story covering responses from Middlesex Middle School and Darien High School students, and there will be a story covering school-specific issues raised by teachers. On July 31, the newspaper will cover the parents’ responses. Student survey results are available here. Survey results from each school are available by clicking the links below.