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Superhero Spotlight: Laser Focus on School Climate and Culture

The ability to effectively support and empower students is a superpower every school leader hopes to master, but few actually do.

As part of our series on school customer experience superheroes, we’re shining a light on Ohio’s Youngstown City School District for its laser focus on culture and climate—especially when it comes to supporting students.

The inner-city school district serves roughly 5,500 students—all of whom receive free or reduced-price lunch. Around seven percent of district students are English Language Learners (ELL), and 14 percent receive special education services.

Greg Kibler, deputy chief of data, Youngstown City School District

“A large portion of our students are from multi-generational poverty and come to us from unique backgrounds and experiences that most neighboring schools don’t necessarily see,” explains Greg Kibler, the district’s deputy chief of data. “It can be a struggle for teachers to overcome some of those barriers for our students, but, as a district, we try and support their ability to help all of our students in all of those cases.”

This emphasis on and need for student support isn’t unique to Youngstown. As Kibler points out: “If you think about urban cities in general, some of the biggest challenges are things like trauma, mental health, and wrap-around services. It can be a challenge for urban districts to address all of those issues, especially with younger students.”

Their mission: Develop a multi-pronged approach to move the needle on school climate and improve the customer experience.

“We needed to be able to engage our students, parents, and staff in a way that not only gave them a voice but also allowed school and district leaders to reflect on what was being said,” explains Kibler. “That way our leaders can make informed decisions at the building and district level and make sure that we’re on the same page with our community about the present needs of our district.”

The power of ‘always-on’ listening

To help, the district partnered with K12 Insight to launch Let’s Talk!, a cloud-based customer service and community engagement platform built specifically for use in K-12 school districts. Administrators use the technology, which allows stakeholders to submit questions, comments, and feedback directly through the district website, for everything from improving communication with parents and students to streamlining IT requests and minimizing classroom disruptions.

John LaPlante, chief information officer, Youngstown City School District

“We started using Let’s Talk! for the customer-focus, community channel side of things and then we branched out to use it for our help desk system,” says John LaPlante, the district’s chief information officer. “Employees really like it. They like the ability to request things online and the trades that use it like the ability to receive and resolve work orders on their phones.”

A backend data dashboard presents district leaders with key metrics about the quality and status of each engagement—such as number of inquiries, average response times, and customer satisfaction score. School leaders use that data to understand and inform school climate and customer experience.

A deeper dive

Of course, technology—by itself—is rarely the answer.

In addition to Let’s Talk!, the district partnered with K12 Insight’s Ph.D.-led research team to build and administer a district-wide school quality survey for students, parents, and staff. Kibler says the survey represents one more way to capture critical insights that don’t always make it into the the state’s report card system.

“By administering a school quality survey, we’re able to showcase what we’re doing well but also see where we need to continue growing,” he explains.

That work doesn’t stop when the survey window closes. To help front-line leaders understand and use the school quality data, officials invited K12 Insight to host an on-site workshop called Making Feedback Matter.


Says Kibler: “The workshop was designed to have school leaders reflect on feedback from the fall survey in terms of their goals and then make some action steps based on that data. This was a critical step in redesigning our school improvement plans to align with the district improvement plan.”

Improvement plans include metrics around key topics like ELA, math standard focus and progression, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), but also how they are performing in terms of climate and culture. “Once every five weeks or so, principals revisit their strategic plan and see how they are progressing on different items,” Kibler says. “Those plans and action steps really came out of the school quality survey and the subsequent workshops.”

Looking forward

Youngstown plans to administer another school quality survey in the spring, which Kibler says is critical to understanding the district’s progress.

“When we revisit the survey in the spring, we’ll be able to see where we made growth and where we didn’t,” he explains. “And we can then use that information to make strategic changes going into next school year.”

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