EAST HARLEM — Improving public schools is the top concern for El Barrio residents, according to a survey released Thursday.
Of the 1,028 people surveyed, 35 percent ranked improving schools as their “most important” concern. Creating more job opportunities was second with 16 percent of the top votes and reducing crime was third with 14 percent.
Union Settlement Association, which last conducted the survey in 2012, changed the format to add a ranking component. In previous years, respondents were only given a checklist of 14 issues and asked to mark whichever they thought was “extremely important,” Executive Director David Nocenti said.
“We changed the survey because so many people were checking 'extremely important' that we wanted to get behind the numbers a bit so that’s why we asked for the top three ranking,” he said.
On second tier concerns, listed in the survey as “extremely important," results were identical to 2012 — 77 percent of respondents picked reducing crime, 73 percent chose affordable health care, 73 percent improved schools, 72 percent affordable housing and 71 percent selected more job opportunities.
Only people enrolled in Union Settlement's programs participated in the survey, Nocenti said.
The ranking results gave a more nuanced view into the issues East Harlem residents find most important, Nocenti said.
“The difference between 77 and 73 is not that high," he said. "But to me, the fact that 35 percent said improving schools was the most important and the next highest was job opportunity at 16 percent, that's a big difference.”
A team of professors and students at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College helped to update the survey and compile the results.
With the new survey, Union Settlement, which offers services for immigrants and the poor, can now break down the numbers into different demographics, Nocenti said. For instance, 41 percent of those involved in the settlement's early education program said schools were the most important issue.
But only 17 percent of seniors said improving schools was most important. For that demographic, 35 percent said reducing crime was most important, according to the survey.
This sort of analysis allows Union Settlement to create different programs. For example, crime prevention programs can now be targeted specifically to seniors.
“I would say that the survey is both expected and surprising," Nocenti said. “It is not surprising that health care, housing, schools, jobs and crime are the biggest issues. But I do think it’s remarkable in the fact that improving the public schools really clearly showed itself to be the No. 1 issue for people more than any other issue.”