Title I Time Saver

With about half of its 4,000-student elementary school population enrolled at six Title I-designated schools, Pennsylvania’s Chambersburg Area School District (CASD) each year faced the time-consuming task of gathering parental input — a mandate of the federal program that provides money to schools with high numbers of low-income students so they can meet state academic standards. And, since the district relied on paper surveys, Title I teachers spent hours manually tallying results.

Like many other school districts nationwide, Chambersburg’s Title I schools have a high percentage of English as a Second Language students and families facing economic disadvantages. Under the federal program, all Title I schools must be above the district average for the number of students per school receiving free or reduced-price lunch. In Chambersburg, the district average is close to 50%.

The district worked to get the word out to the community about the survey, “but we were not getting a lot of feedback from parents,” said Dionne Martin, the CASD’s Title I/Reading Supervisor.

Creating a plan for success

When CASD partnered with K12 Insight in 2012 to strengthen community engagement, Director of Support Services Tammy Stouffer believed the partnership could be used to improve the Title I program.

“As we continue to become poorer, we are dealing with more schools for our Title I students and the work involved increases,” Stouffer said. “We didn’t go looking for K12 Insight from the Title I perspective, but it certainly has benefited us.”

To best leverage K12 Insight’s technology and experience, the district launched an online survey, along with a comprehensive outreach effort. In addition to general feedback, Martin wanted to understand where parents were obtaining Title I information, gauge perceived usefulness of that information and increase parent involvement in the program.

Using their existing paper surveys as a starting point, Martin solicited suggestions from the district’s Title I teachers. The K12 Insight team also gave the district some of its previously created surveys to review.

The final survey was available online and on paper in both English and Spanish.

Connecting to the community

With the drive to see a surge in responses, the district and K12 Insight embarked on a communication strategy built around numerous ways to reach parents.

A multilingual letter announcing the survey and how to participate was backpacked home with Title I students. Survey invitations were emailed to Title I parents in both English and Spanish, and a message was sent out through the district’s all call system. In addition, a press release was created and a public survey link was posted on the district’s website, with paper surveys available on request.

While there was a concerted effort districtwide, some Title I schools made a systematic push to increase parent involvement. They made it part of their school’s Parent Night and opened the computer labs so parents could take the survey while they were there.

Ultimately, the effort led to more than 280 survey responses — about 100 more than in previous years.

After the survey closed, CASD received a districtwide data report and an individualized report for each Title I school.

Applying survey outcomes

Using the parent feedback, teachers and administrators created program plans that matched community priorities, including more emphasis on mathematics. “We have a fairly new math program,” Martin said. “Parents don’t really understand it, and they want to know more about it so they can support their children.”

Each year, Title I schools receive funding for parents workshops and materials for home use. Which of the following educational topics would be helpful to you?

Based on parents’ preferred communication methods, CASD is working to adjust its strategy. In addition, participants said they would be willing to help with Title I tasks at their child’s school, which the district can leverage to increase other parents’ involvement.

The biggest benefit by far, said Stouffer, was something that might not show up on a tally sheet but is crucial to the successful education of students.

“People might look at the Title I money and say it should be spent on kids. Well, we are spending it on kids because we are getting the teachers back in front of them,” she said. “The teachers estimate they spent two days tallying survey results before. When you look at that time for 10 Title I teachers and start multiplying it out, there is a big cost-benefit.”

The Title I progress reports received throughout the 2012-2013 school year were
helpful (n = 205).