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Albemarle School Board ponders employee engagement as educators continue call for collective bargaining

Fifteen percent of Albemarle County schools employees said they were strongly satisfied with the school system as a place to work, according to a recent survey.

Satisfaction levels for this year were in the 14th percentile, which is low. Overall, the division’s results were in the 25th percentile nationally.

The survey from Gallup was focused on employee engagement, which is more about an employee’s relationship to work rather than an evaluation of their working conditions. The division’s new strategic plan calls for measuring employee engagement.

The School Board got its first look at the survey results Thursday.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised that we scored pretty low,” board member Kate Acuff said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic might have affected employee engagement.

This is the first year of the survey, and the results will be a baseline for future comparisons. The division spent just under $60,000 on it, spokesman Phil Giaramita said.

About three-quarters of employees responded to the engagement survey, which was conducted from April 25 to May 14. Overall, about 31% of respondents were considered engaged employees, which means they are involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace, according to Gallup. That’s in line with national trends.

The division contracted with Gallup on the survey because the organization works with other school systems, and the data from its Q12 survey can be compared nationally. The Q12 survey specifically measures engagement using 12 questions that Gallup has determined are the best way to improve employees’ productivity.

Albemarle County’s strategic plan adopted last summer calls for the division to attract, develop and retain high quality staff members. That objective is measured in part by looking at employee satisfaction levels. The division wants those levels to stay ahead of national trends.

“The more that our employees are engaged, the better we are likely to retain them and that will definitely benefit our students,” said Clare Keiser, the division’s assistant superintendent for organizational development and human resource leadership, at Thursday’s meeting.

Keiser didn’t specifically address the results nor did other division leaders.

Retention data for this school year isn’t available yet, but board personnel reports show that resignations and retirements will likely be higher this school year than last year. In an analysis of personnel from the last six years, resignations and retirements at this point in the year were only higher in the 2018-19 school year.

So far this year, 87 employees have resigned and 28 have retired. In the 2018-19 school year, 97 had resigned by late May and 29 had retired.

The School Board work session on the survey results comes two weeks after the board voted down a request for collective bargaining from the Albemarle Education Association, which was supported by nearly 70% of employees and would’ve allowed employees to negotiate a contract with the school division. Supporters have said they think that collective bargaining would help improve employee morale and boost retention, citing conversations with their coworkers.


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