More San Antonio Independent School District teachers believe the district is providing them with the environment and tools they need to improve student success than those surveyed four years ago.

A teacher survey conducted each February since 2017 shows that SAISD has worked to fine-tune teacher evaluation methods, academics, classroom settings, and more to increase teacher satisfaction in 12 “domains,” Teacher Incentive Fund program director Tori Austin said. Progress has not been a straight line, with SAISD slipping on some domains in prior years. The domains are related to teacher support and student success in schools.

“We have worked to continually push our campuses and support our campuses to grow in those domains,” she said.

The teacher response rate for the survey developed by TNTP, a nonprofit education consulting agency, increased to 84% this year from 69% in 2017, Austin said. When SAISD first started conducting the survey, the district fell below the national average or benchmark for all 12 domains.

TNTP has collected more than 375,000 responses from 2,350 schools since 2010, according to its website.

While the survey shows SAISD teachers are mostly happy with their working conditions, the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel has backed a slate of candidates in the May 1 school board election all aligned under a platform that calls for more staff input in decision-making and safer working conditions. Union leaders have criticized Superintendent Pedro Martinez for bringing charter school operators into the district and prioritizing standardized testing.

The 2021 survey shows SAISD is either at or above the national average for all but four of the 12 domains: academic opportunity, hiring process, career progression, and instructional planning for student growth. The district is working with its human capital management department on its hiring process and using its master teacher program to support teachers with less experience. Austin said the master teacher program allows teachers to stay in the classroom to coach other teachers, while also earning more money.

SAISD exceeded or met the national average for evaluation; diversity, equity, and inclusion; family and community engagement; professional development; leadership; peer culture; observation and feedback; and learning environment.

Principals and assistant principals use the data, broken down by campus, to evaluate how their schools are meeting teacher needs. As a former principal, Austin said, this data is invaluable to campus administrators because it gives them the chance to tackle the school’s most pressing issues for teachers. Those issues eventually trickle down to students if they’re not met, which may result in students suffering academically.

Austin said the campus-level changes could range from enhancing the learning environment by setting clear expectations for teachers to providing more feedback for teachers so they can “refine their craft, refine their skills, and continue to add to their toolbox of expertise” and address students’ needs.

“That’s the end goal,” she said of ensuring student success. “It all feeds into the criteria and elements that have been identified through research and through practice that these are the aspects of a school culture that matter most for teacher and student success.”

The survey is tied to the $46 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant the U.S. Department of Education awarded SAISD in October 2016. The district reports the survey data to the department to help measure SAISD’s progress in meeting the goal of recruiting and retaining highly qualified educators at the district’s lowest-performing schools.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.