FOXBORO — The town’s schools might be renowned for strong academics, celebrated music and art programs and a tradition of Hockomock League athletics, but certainly not for upscale cafeteria cuisine — at least according to a majority of local students.
That may have been the most predictable finding arising from a comprehensive survey of school culture and quality reviewed by school officials recently.
The annual survey, conducted last spring by K-12 Insight, a Virginia-based educational consulting firm, elicited responses from 265 school staffers, 694 parents and 1,334 students in grades 5-12.
Parents, students and school staffers were asked for feedback in eight key areas, including academic preparation, student support, leadership, faculty relations, parent engagement, operations, school safety and behavior.
Although school board members voiced concerns about certain responses related to safety and behavior — not to mention the aforementioned knock on school lunches — most of the survey findings were consistent with data gathered in previous years.
Results will be used to help gauge progress on the district’s strategic plan, as well as internally in school improvement planning, according to Superintendent Amy Berdos.
“This is actionable data for us in many, many different ways,” she said.
Berdos said the survey has been done for the past eight years, with participation growing over that period. The analysis presented recently compared findings for the past five years, with student responses broken down by grade level and aggregate results judged against national benchmarks.
Not surprisingly, the grade-level breakdown showed a wide range of responses to questions about typical in-school scenarios. For example, just 48 percent of eighth-graders agreed that courses and activities offered at school are interesting, compared to 81 percent of 12th-graders.
In presenting the information, Berdos said the findings reflect perceptions about Foxboro schools indicating how different stakeholders view conditions in local classrooms, not necessarily objective reality.
For example, less than half of parents surveyed (49 percent) agreed that staff members are responsive when students report bullying, while 91 percent of school staffers responded favorably to the same question.
“That’s disappointing,” school committee member Brent Reuter said of the discrepancy.
A similar disconnect was apparent in answers related to student-support issues. When asked if a teacher, counselor or staff member is typically available to assist students with personal problems, 94 percent of staffers responded favorably. However, only 76 percent of parents and 62 percent of students agreed.
Committee members found especially troubling responses to a series of questions about vaping which suggested that a majority of parents and nearly half of school staffers view in-school vaping as problematic.
That percentage rose dramatically among students surveyed, with 81 percent of seventh-graders and 80 percent of eighth-graders suggesting that vaping was a problem during the school day — numbers that declined only slightly at the high school level.
These questions identified bathrooms, the gym locker rooms and the school parking lots as areas where student vaping typically occurs.
“I must say these statistics show we have more work to do in this area,” said committee Chairwoman Tina Belanger, who characterized the responses as “pretty disturbing.”
“This doesn’t surprise us based on what we’ve heard from students,” Berdos added.
Student responses to questions about school lunch quality were no surprise either, especially among finicky middle schoolers — findings that mirror national trends.
Just 16 percent of eighth-graders agreed with a survey question that fresh, high-quality food is served in the school cafeteria — a perception that rose to 46 percent of 12th-graders.
“I’d like students to give me a menu of what would be fresh, high-quality food,” sighed school business administrator William Yukna. “If people think there is something we’re truly missing we need to know what it is.”