Island schools are conducting an equity audit and climate survey this spring in hopes of improving safety, inclusivity and morale amid parent complaints.

The equity audit and climate survey, which will solicit faculty, parents and students for feedback on school culture and leadership, will be conducted in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MAEC), school superintendent Richie Smith shared Friday, and will go out sometime this April or May. 

The audit will include all of the Vineyard public school systems schools. Although new to the Island, the MAEC has previously worked with the Falmouth school district to improve its diversity, equity, inclusion and safety practices.

The school system has been trying to conduct surveys like these for years, Mr. Smith said, but has run into logistical problems, including trouble reaching a critical mass of respondents. In a recent Edgartown school committee meeting, parents raised concerns that the school had not made enough of an effort to solicit their feedback. Mr. Smith hopes that the renewed spotlight on school transparency will yield better, more comprehensive results. 

“Anecdotally, we can make changes and sometimes they work, sometimes they might not,” Mr. Smith said. “Whatever we do next, it’s gotta be driven by data.” 

According to the MAEC, the equity audit “specifically looks at policies, programs and practices that directly or indirectly impact students or staff relative to their race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, color, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or other socio-culturally significant factors.”

The survey comes from the U.S. Department of Education and is distinct but related, Mr. Smith explained. It asks students, staff and parents to gauge bullying, drug use, instructional support and other aspects relating to school culture and safety. Prompts include “Students at this school are often bullied,” and “The school building is clean and well-maintained.” 

Although the audit and survey have been in the works for some time, its arrival comes on the heels of issues flaring up at the Edgartown School, including accusations of ineffective leadership and an unwelcoming school culture. In an email to parents this week, Edgartown school principal Shelley Einbinder said the audit will compel the administration to “take a hard look” at its practices.

Mr. Smith said parents should be on the lookout for the survey and audit, which may be combined into one master survey, in the coming months. In the past, response rates for both staff and parents hovered in the 30 per cent range or less, Mr. Smith said.

“I’ll call it a culture of data,” Mr. Smith said of his management approach going forward. “But in order for that data to be valid, it’s very key to get respondence.”