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Right on time: Building a community-informed school calendar

school calendar

Corey Ryan, chief communications officer, Leander ISD

Developing a school calendar that works for your community is never easy.

In Texas, a state mandate that dictated an unusually late start date to the school year led some administrators to question whether families might decide to choose other educational options, such as charters schools, for example.

“The state of Texas requires that public schools start after the fourth Monday of August, which meant we started almost a week later this year than previous years,” explains Corey Ryan, chief communications officer for Leander ISD, one of the fastest-growing districts in the state. “That throws everything off when you’re trying to keep the same basic components.”

To regain its competitive edge and keep families happy, Leander ISD sought to change its start date. That meant applying for an exemption through the state’s District of Innovation program. Before moving forward, administrators wanted to explain their motivations, and seek feedback from the community.

Getting innovative

“Through District of Innovation, some school districts are doing things that are controversial, especially for teacher groups, because you can exempt from things such as class-size ratio and you can also do things like not have certified teachers in classrooms,” explains Ryan. “These are things charter schools do all the time, but do not align with our community’s values for our schools.”

Leander ISD sought an easy and authentic way to engage families about the district’s school calendar, while correcting any misconceptions regarding the district’s DOI status.

So, administrators turned to Let’s Talk!, from K12 Insight. Accessible via a button on the school district website, the cloud-based listening solution gives parents, students, staff, and others an easy way to ask questions and seek feedback on critical issues, such as proposed calendar changes.  

Looking to engage your community about your school calendar or other hot-button issues? Sign up for the TrustED newsletter.

In total, the district received 1,175 community dialogues during the school calendar process. A backend dashboard made it possible for administrators to easily categorize and manage different conversations, drill down into the data, and run detailed reports.

“With Let’s Talk!, we were able to tag comments and questions to not only determine the preference of the calendar, but also determine why and what the issues were and the sentiment behind them,” explains Ryan. “That helped us determine if people were against District of Innovation all together, or just the parts we weren’t doing. That was huge for us.”

The ability to collaborate across teams and create and customize templated outbound messages in Let’s Talk! helped to ensure timely responses that were complete, accurate, and courteous—enabling district leaders to work smarter, not harder when communicating with parents and other community members.

Finding a compromise

The district used the feedback and reports it received through Let’s Talk! to support its DOI application and shared its findings with the school board and school calendar administrators.

According to Ryan:

“Let’s Talk! made it easy to quantify the volume and type of inquiries so we could confidently say, ‘Here’s what people are talking about, and here are the numbers behind that.’ That freed us up to handle the data in an objective way and make the right decision for our community.”

The district plans to build on the success it realized during the school calendar process by using Let’s Talk! for other sensitive campaigns, such as boundary planning.

“Let’s Talk! gives us a familiar avenue to be able to collect data and input on a variety of topics,” says Ryan. “This will help us close that feedback loop, engage people in a systematic way, and hopefully drive some of those negative or controversial conversations off of public media and into a customer service portal, so we can address them directly and efficiently.”

Want to learn more about how Let’s Talk! can help your district lead school calendar planning? Sign up for a free demo or contact your Let’s Talk! Customer Success Specialist.

About the Author

Kyle Freelander
Kyle Freelander is a Communications Specialist at K12 Insight.

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