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Can a Good Survey Repair Your School’s Communication System?

You don’t often hear school leaders being compared to repairmen, but it’s an apt analogy.

When taking a new position, superintendents know that one of their first tasks will be to assess what’s broken in their district and propose solutions. Of course, changing the culture of an entire school district isn’t always as straightforward as, say, fixing a leaky pipe.

When Dr. Catherine Magouyrk took over as Superintendent at Manassas City Public Schools in Va., she sought to fix a communications system in need of repair. She started by conducting a community survey and gathering feedback.

In an online event last week, Magouyrk shared what she learned during the process and offered ideas for how other school districts can use community-based surveys to better understand challenges and make improvements in their districts.

Here are three takeaways:

Post-surveys and needs assessments are a good way to measure progress.
Manassas City Public Schools used surveys as the basis for a new school counselor program. Faced with an increase in student suicides and other safety and health challenges, the community looked to its schools for a stronger student support system. An initial survey showed that parents, and even some teachers, were unaware of the work school district counselors were already doing to help with these issues.

To better measure and report on that progress, Magouyrk and her team plan to administer follow-up surveys this summer with students and parents to see how their understanding of student support services in the district has changed.

One key to an effective community survey, says Magouyrk, is active communication. Schools need to be very clear about what the surveys are, why they’re being conducted, and how they can help. These “intentional acts of communication” are key—so that “when we work with our stakeholders, we don’t get to a point where people don’t know what we’re doing,” she says, “and so we can assess it along the way.”

A well-researched survey can lead to a better response rate.
Magouyrk attributes her district’s high survey response rate to strong initial legwork.

She and her team based questions off of comments and anecdotal information received by school board members, central office staff, teachers, and others to make sure the surveys got to the heart of real public concerns.

When survey participants recognize questions that relate to personal concerns, it gives the impression that the district is listening, she says, and that leads to a more engaging conversation around the issues. It also creates higher levels of participation.

To make real change, make sure you effectively share out your survey findings.
Getting survey results into the hands of your change-makers is an important step, says Magouyrk.

After receiving the results of its counselor program survey, for example, the district developed a presentation summarizing that information, making it easily digestible for community members and school officials alike.

They then attended board meetings and met individually with school principals and counselors to share that information. Educators then used the findings to develop action plans.

In a separate survey, results showed that the community was concerned about the collection and safety of student data. District officials knew they had strong data-protection policies in place. The problem, says Magouyrk, is that they weren’t doing a good job communicating those policies and protections out to the public.

In response, district leaders drafted a strategy to better-communicate how they were protecting student data and what it meant for students and parents.

Have you used surveys to improve your district’s communication strategy? What have you learned as a result? Tell us in the comments.

Miss last week’s webinar on how to make your next school survey count? Hear more from Dr. Magourk and others by listening to the full recording here.