69% of residents trust teachers and 41% favor public schools in the 2020 Garrity Perception Survey

By The Garrity Group


New Mexico residents have unique perspectives about favorability and trust of public schools and educators. The 2020 Garrity Perception Survey reveals confidence in educators is strong, 69 percent of New Mexico residents trust teachers, ranking second out of fifteen professions. When the focus is on K-12 institutions, 41 percent of New Mexicans have a favorable impression of public schools; ranking fourteenth out of seventeen industries. The scientific survey of 408 residents has a 95 percent level of confidence.

In this episode, Tom Garrity; President and CEO of The Garrity Group Public Relations speaks with Dr. Sue Cleveland, the superintendent and chief executive officer of the Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Full Transcript

Tom Garrity [00:00:02] According to the 20 20 year perceptions survey, New Mexico residents have unique perspectives of education, competence and educators and strong. Sixty nine percent of New Mexico residents trust teachers. Forty one percent of the Mexicans have a favorable impression of public schools. This is Tom Garrity with the Garrity good public relations. Joining me today to talk about the 20 20 Garrity Perception Survey is one of the most respected educators in the state, at least according to me. It is Dr. Sue Cleveland, the superintendent and chief executive officer of the Rio Rancho Public Schools. Welcome, Doctor Cleveland. It’s good to see you.

Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:00:38] It’s good to see you as well. Thank you for having me today. 

Tom Garrity [00:00:42] You bet. So before we jump into the twenty 20 Perceptions survey findings, will you please just provide our viewers and listeners a little bit more insight about your leadership path and the Rio Rancho Public Schools?

Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:00:56] Well, I am. I’m a native New Mexican.

Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:01:00] I am a graduate of San Diego High School and went to you and them and then went to New Mexico State University, where my husband was getting an engineering degree. And then we left and went to Houston and were there for a good number of years. I was a teacher and administrator and one of the suburban districts in Houston. And then his work took us to the Carolinas. And I was an administrator and superintendent of a district outside of Charlotte. And I always wanted to come back homeless here. And my parents were here and we had a new baby. And so we made the trip back to New Mexico and this opportunity to work with the Rio Rancho School districts. It’s just been a wonderful experience for me. I’ve just been so grateful to have had this opportunity. So that’s kind of the pathway. I worked at all three levels. I worked at elementary, middle and high school. My primary background is, was high school, but. Can I have a pretty general background in education?

Tom Garrity [00:02:08] Well, and you are the only superintendent that the Rio Rancho Public Schools has ever known.

Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:02:15] I am the only one. I’ve been here quite a long time, and as I said, it’s been a great experience.

Tom Garrity [00:02:22] Well, the 2020 Perception Survey addresses trust of teachers and favorability of public schools. Let’s talk about this, 69 percent of residents who have a very high level of trust in teachers. Your opinion, in your opinion, why are teachers the second most trusted profession in the state?

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:02:41] Well, I think number one was family and relatives. As I recall, and so it’s it’s wonderful to see teachers at the number two slot. The reason I think that occurs is that most parents make their children their number one priority. It’s the most important thing in their lives. And so they pay a lot of attention to education and they want a good education for their children.

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:03:08] And so it’s you know, the closer you get to the child, I think the greater the better the perception is. And that can work both ways. I mean, can be a very positive. It’s not a good situation. It could be very negative. But thankfully, by far, most are very positive. So they’re very close to the student. And I think that’s why their rating is so high. I found over the years that the further you move away from children, that just begins to drop off. And so, again, you don’t know people as well. The principal’s role is sometimes a very different role with having to tell you maybe your child wasn’t behaving or there are some other issues. And then moving further away from that and the district office. And, you know, it’s just you’re not as close to what’s most important to them and what’s most important to them is, is their children. The other factor I think, that’s really important is that when you have really good teachers, you can see the visible results of that work. My child wasn’t reading in the beginning of this grade level and by the end of the year, they’re reading. And so you have some really obvious feedback as to how your child is doing. You know, we have so much more sophisticated information today to share with parents about how their child is doing. And the teacher is the one who shares that and works with them to identify their strengths and their weaknesses. And then I think the last and just so terribly important is that the majority of our teachers, about three fourths, live in the community. And so people know them and they know them in a different way. And I think that’s an important part of having that positive perception as you see them at places. Are they sure you know your ballgames or your church or whatever? And. And so I think it’s that sense of community also really relates to people’s perception of teachers. And even for those who don’t live in this community, many of them are very active in this community, in various organizations and groups. And so I think that’s why it’s so high. It’s just kind of a combination of all those things.

 Tom Garrity [00:05:22] Well, I like the, you know, the thread as far as the ripple effect, the farther you get away from that student relationship. You know, there’s a lot of less contact. And maybe that’s what we’re seeing with public schools with. Forty one percent of residents having a favorable opinion of public schools. What are some of the issues that impacts people ability in public schools?

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:05:43] Well, I think there’s several. But, you know, to your point, I think it’s kind of interesting that you generally see a trend where my school is great, but everybody else’s school is not. And I can’t quite understand that paradox because you would assume that maybe those other schools are as good, but even see it within our own district. People are very proud of the school they attend and they’re sure it’s better than the other elementary school across town. And you want that? I mean, you appreciate that. I do think there are some things, though, that are really important. Parents today are really very savvy consumers. And so they know what they want in schools and they look for schools that meet those expectations. And so I think they want the whole package. And it’s you know, the academic performance is really important. And that’s why they send children to us, is to prepare them academically. They want their children to learn what they need to learn in school. And so that’s extremely important. And I think parents are much more aware today of the of the changes in the world economy. Children need to be well-prepared. It’s got to be more of a struggle maybe than it’s been in the past to get the kind of job and have a good living for your child and their family in the future. I think there are other things that are just very, very important today. One of them is kind of a sad situation, but that is safety. And so I think parents look, you know, that’s one of the first questions we get. What are the things you do to keep my child safe today? And so you have to pay attention to that. And I think we have spent a lot of time on providing for a safe environment. And that’s, I think, is really important. I also think particularly for older children, and they’re looking for the complete package in terms of extra curricular. And we really pride ourselves in our district. We have a really good track record of really strong programs and the extracurricular areas, whether it’s the fine arts, our district spend the top fine arts districts several times in the district’s history. We’re proud of all our state championships in terms of athletics, and our student governments are strong. And I think they look for four schools that connect kids, tie kids and make them part of something. And that’s part of that whole package and being parents. That was just a really strong push back to that period. You know, accountability was just everything. And we kind of lost our vision of the whole child. And really, you need a well-rounded education. I think parents were very vocal about that. And so I think you have to have that, you know, in terms of having parents feel like their child is getting a good education because it’s not just academics. It’s not just one thing. It’s a variety of things. And as I said, you’ve got to have the whole package in order to have a good perception of public schools.

 Tom Garrity [00:08:53] So the perception survey was in the field at the end of January of twenty twenty and then Cauvin hit. And so the survey results that we’re looking at are pre coded. How do you think that favor ability of public schools and trust of teachers will fare in a post environment?

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:09:16] You know, I think it’s I think it’s going to change a lot of things. I mean, some things won’t change. I think that. You know, the whole idea of of community support and being proud of your schools and strong communications, some of those things won’t change. But I think they are going to be some some changes. And we already are seeing parents voice real concerns about remote learning, period. They don’t feel it really fits their child very well. It’s not something that their child enjoys doing. And in many cases, it’s not something the parents enjoy making the child do. And so the whole challenge of remote learning, I think, is it’s going to be very interesting to see how that plays out. And most of the complaints that I received at the start of the school year have been really kind of interesting because they almost all began with the teacher is great. But and then I get the bad, you know, the things that they hate. They really don’t like. But one of the really huge challenges right now is just how politicized the environment has become. And so people are various. No majority. You know, there is a group that would like children to return to a traditional school tomorrow. And you have others who don’t want their children to return at all. And then there’s a third group that says, why can I can work kind of between the two, but I don’t want my child there all day, every day because of my fears about the virus. And so there there’s no consensus anymore about what school really ought to look like. And I think that’s one of the one of the challenges. I think the other is.

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:11:05] But when you’re communicating, you what you generally want to know, as you well know, when the work that you do is you want it to be timely, you want it to be accurate, you want it to be consistent, and it changes by the minute. And that’s some exaggeration. It’s just, you know, we’ll put something out and then it will change. And that undermines people’s confidence in the information that we’re giving.

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:11:27] And so that has that has really been, I think, a challenge. But there are a lot of concerns about remote learning. There are also a lot of challenges in terms of, OK, we’re kind of in this remote situation now. Well, there’s no agreement what that should look like. So you have a situation where you have some parents who want their child on a regular schedule in front of that computer, seven periods a day. The teachers going to talk and then you have others that say there’s no way I want my child in front of a computer all day long. You know, do a lecture, do the assignment and give my child time off. I don’t think it’s healthy for my child to be stuck in front of a screen all day long. And so you have that same continuum of what does remote look like? And there’s no agreement among parents. And so there’s really no way to make everybody happy. We just tried the very best we can. And what we’re motivated by is what’s in the best interest of student and trying to work that out. The other is, you know, some of our children, some of our children are having a hard time with remote learning at home. The parents are telling me they’re having a hard time making their children do the work. And so it’s, you know, maybe long term there’ll be a benefit out of that then that there’s a greater appreciation about how hard teachers work and the knowledge and skills they bring to working with children in a classroom, to getting to do the things they need to do. And so I think there has been an increased appreciation for how hard teachers work. I saw in the back of a car when they and I laughed, I took a picture of it and brought it back and said, you know, open schools, say, in my home school isn’t working at all at once. And for some parents, I love it and it’s working well. But for others, it’s not. And now you know it. And I do think out of this long term, I most will want to return to traditional when we can offer that. I think some are not going to go back there for a while.

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:13:33] I think they’ll stay remote beyond maybe even once we have a vaccine or whatever. And we’ve always offered a remote opportunity in Rio Rancho. It’s most districts do have one of the other things I think is really positive that will come out of this. As we’ve just watched all of our technology skills grow and start. Teachers are more technologically literate than they’ve ever been. And so they’re using software at a higher level. And their lessons or some of them are just fabulous. They’re the 80s. They’re different. And so I think that when all is said and done, the technology skills of our staff will have improved. And we live in a technology driven world. And so I think that will be a positive thing. People are just more comfortable than they used to be with technology in terms of classroom instruction.

 Tom Garrity [00:14:25] Well. You focused a lot of attention between that relationship between the teacher and the parent and specifically the student. One of the things that impressed me, you know, is is what you were sharing before we got on camera with respect to how you’re working and providing solutions to some of your teachers. Can you talk about that kind of relationship and what Rio Rancho is doing? That is is really unique. I had not heard of this before.

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:14:55] Well, we you know, we’ve been working a lot with our teachers to try to create an environment that they’ll feel comfortable to come back in. And so we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and working very closely with our union. What is the protective gear that teachers need to have? It doesn’t look the same for all teachers. Some of our higher need children, you’re going to have to have medical grade protective gear for it, for them.

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:15:21] We’ve also thought about, you know, for those who don’t live in our community, you may not be on the same Stachel, but about a third of our staff lives outside of Rio Rancho, providing day care for our children and for their children so that they feel comfortable about coming to work and providing a good, safe place for their children to be. But I’d say a lot of dialog about, you know, what? What do you need to feel comfortable to come back? And then for those who really just feel they can’t do that and they’re just, you know, they have a medical condition or they’re just they’re just extremely fearful. We have been trying to work remote environment and most classes for them so that they don’t have to come back into the classroom. But so far, we’ve been able to manage all of the requests that they’ve made. I don’t know if that’ll change as that as the health situation changes. But for right now, we’ve been able to pretty much balance it. But there is a lot of concern and fear. And sometimes, you know, we talk us. We will. Should that, you know, our children are our number one priority. But I think it’s important to also realize that you can’t do anything for children without staff. And so and our staff are probably more at risk, more vulnerable. And we have a lot of staff that are older. We have a lot of staff who have underlying medical conditions. And so without them, we can’t we can’t do our job. And so that’s really important. And I think, you know, things that we just have taken for granted in the past. You know, we see across the country a lot of substitute bowls put pools are declining. And so we’re having to think differently about what do we do in those cases. And we’ve started a teacher intern program to bring in some folks who really want to be teachers. That will be the backup, those effects with degrees or folks that graduated from college and then find a job and then try to have people behind them. But you can’t even assign substitutes like you used to because you don’t want a person in five different buildings. And then should they become, you know, you would have to close five buildings. So trying to, you know, assign them to individual sites so that they can stay in that one facility. But there’s just a lot of things you have to think about. But staff is really important to us because we can’t deliver services without them.

 Tom Garrity [00:17:51] Well, and it sounds like that you’re really setting a high bar for other school districts to really kind of look at. But more importantly is that regardless of the high bar, you’re providing a pathway for other school districts to say, OK, here’s what’s what Rio Rancho is doing, might not be a perfect fit for us, but we’re going to tweak it and really use that as the standard. So I say congratulations and keep up the great work that you’ve given a lot of thought to.

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:18:14] And I think most districts are as well. But, you know, it’s sometimes we do forget about the importance of the adults of the building and that without them we can’t deliver services to children. So they are very important as well as the children.

 Tom Garrity [00:18:31] You know, we have talked so much about COVID, and it’s because it’s really top of mind for a lot of people. And you know, you’ve really hit a lot of really great points throughout it. Looking back at the perception survey with regards to demographic sweet spots in education in general, the supporters tend to be those, you know, people who are females as well as residents over the age of 50. When you take a look at the easiest ways for school communities to build trust among students and their families. What are some of those ways that trust can be built?

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:19:09] Well, I think the number one factor for trust is producing good results. And I remember when we started the district. Now the conversations we had. We better deliver a good product fairly soon because people are taking a real chance on us as we are creating a new school district. And so, obviously, you’ve got to produce really good results. I think the other and you alluded to it earlier, more than ever before, it’s always been important, but now more than ever is developing relationships with families and kids. And it’s more important when you’re in a remote environment to build that relationship and to pay more attention to it. So when we started our middle schools this this about a week and a half ago, we spent several days just trying to get to know the kids and trying to build those relationships and try to explain how schools that work this year, because if you don’t have that, you don’t have trust. And I think you have to you know, we have to put out some pretty clear expectations about schedules, about our plans, what we’re going to do, and then definitely adhere to those. But more importantly, you’ve got to put them out for people to see so they know exactly what a day looks like. And give you an example, in elementary, we’ve given we give out a very detailed schedule every day and every week. So parents know exactly what’s going to happen that week for their children. And I think when they see that, I think, oh, OK. You know, I was kind of worried about what it was that look like. But now I see that we’re going to have we’re going to have math during this time. We’re going to have our specials at this time and we’ll break during the day for lunch. And, you know. But we are we’re schedule driven and we always have been. And I think people want to know what those schedules look like. And then the other especially right now, it’s just absolutely critical is Preetam. I go to get help. And so my computer doesn’t work or my child’s not getting this lesson, doesn’t understand what’s what they’re supposed to do. Where do I go for help? And so we have built in several different pathways for getting help. Certainly in the academic, they get it through the parent, through that the teacher and through our Google classroom. And we have several ways for them to access that that help. We have Google meets where they can talk with the teacher. And so there’s a pathway for academic help. The one that we needed initially, probably more than anything else, is just the technology. My computer’s not working. I can’t get this to work. What do I do? And now, you know, we’ve all been there with technology when it doesn’t work. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world. So we put into a kind of a professional ticket deaths. And parents can call in and they put in a ticket just like we would do in the district. We try to get them help very quickly. And I we give our I.T. department power marro, you know, many, many kids for the work they’ve done. And they’ve also been very helpful in getting every parent connected and getting every family connected, which has been a huge task as well. And then the last, but certainly not the least, is my child’s just overwhelmed with everything and worried and scared and whatever we have. We have a new program to support smoke, social, emotional learning of children, and now but also direct pathways to the counselors and other support staff that can help the child if they’re just struggling with this whole different environment. And a lot of children are a lot of parents are so trying to know how do I get help and where do I go? And making sure that they have that information, those phone numbers and that we respond back to them in a pretty quick turnaround time. And then we also find that building trust is just communication. And as you know, that’s always the hardest thing in any organization. You never get past that. You never get to where you need to be. And. But we’re doing everything from robo calls to emails to all of the social media. What we’re finding is, you know, we just keep pushing it out and we have a wonderful communications department. Beth Pendergrast is a fabulous job for us. And I’m. What we find is that parents still pick and choose because they’re so busy with their own lives and their own challenges, and so you just have to do it over and over and over again. And sometimes it’s really frustrating. We set out for emails and then someone calls and says, well, what are we going to do about this? And I thought, you know, bite your tongue. And you say, well, we’ve already sent that out. But here’s the answer. But it is just you just can’t send out enough. And it is frustrating because people don’t always have time to read what you’re sending out. And that’s just that’s just because their lives are so busy. It’s not that they don’t care. That’s not that they’re not willing to do it. It’s just it’s very hard. And then, as I mentioned earlier, it changes minute by minute. And so we’ll send something out this week and then next week it’s different. And the parent may not read the second one and they are still operating under the first e-mail that you sent. And so that continual just always providing information. It’s hard to do. But we try to do it on a very regular basis. And we have a community newsletter. It goes out every week and people are getting pretty attuned to looking for things in that newsletter. But we also still do the robo calls for the really important things. And there’s one other thing I would mention maybe belongs in another area, I don’t know. But we have something called Parent University, and it has been so well received and and it’s like an hour and a half class and it is in the evenings and it’s a variety of different topics. For example, what does AP look like this year in the world of virtual classes? Or my child is a child with a disability. How is this going to work for my child? Or, you know, what is the new social emotional learning program look like and how do I use it? How do I access? So if my child is anxious about school, so we’re trying a variety of different things and hope that somehow one of them sticks with families.

 Tom Garrity [00:25:45] Well, you definitely have as far as your communications mix. You’re getting in a great number of touches and I’m sure that the readability is appropriate to the different parent audiences. I know the tall task. Where can people learn more about the Rio Rancho Public Schools?

 Dr. Sue Cleveland [00:26:03] Well, I think there’s several ways out. One of them is it’s certainly our Web site. We have a good Web site and I think they can find a lot of information in our Web site. We obviously have accounts of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. And now and as I mentioned earlier, the community newsletter is you have to opt into it. We don’t want to send it to people who don’t want it. And now so you have to go to the Web site and opt in. But and you get it every week after that. And as I said, parent universe that if you really want in-depth information, that’s the place to go. And we recorded all of those. So if you miss one, you can go back and know I didn’t get the one on what you’re going to do for busses this year, which is another interesting situation for schools and food service. And then go back and they can they can find those recording sessions that take a topic and really look at it in depth and have most of their questions answered. One of the things we do during parent university is we do the first part as the presentation. And of course, during that time we’re getting chat questions and then we spend the last part answering all those questions and we run out of time. Then we answer them in writing back to the people that have asked them. But I think parents learn a lot from the questions other parents have. And so, you know, the parent university really gives you a comprehensive look, whereas the newsletters and the others are not are not as in depth, but they’re really good sources of information as well.

 Tom Garrity [00:27:42] Lots of great ways for people to get in contact with the Rio Rancho Public Schools. Dr. C. Cleveland superintendent and chief executive officer of the Rio Rancho Public Schools. Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you. For more insights about the Garrity perception survey. Be sure to visit Garrity PR dot com.

Published August 22, 2020


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