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Why your school needs an ombudsman

school ombudsman

“The opportunity to connect to the superintendent was something a lot of people were interested in.” – Rosalie Hirano, Ombudsman, Kyrene Elementary School District

When Dr. Jan Vesely took over as superintendent of Arizona’s Kyrene Elementary School District in 2016, she wanted to show the community that her door was always open.

So she set off on an ambitious listening tour, conducting site visits and hosting face-to-face meetings with teachers, principals and parents in more than 25 school buildings.

It had been more than a decade since the district hired a new superintendent and people were anxious to hear Vesely’s plans and understand her vision for the future. The tour was a success. But it was a two-and-half-hour drive from one end of the district to the other. To make her open-door policy stick would require some serious innovation—and a little teamwork.

Vesely tapped former Congressional staffer Rosalie Hirano to serve as the district’s de facto ombudsman responsible for listening and responding to parent and community concerns.

To give parents and other community members a way to submit feedback, including questions and concerns, they turned to K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk!.

“We’ve got some very high-flying parents who are very involved and very active in their kids’ education,” says Hirano. “The opportunity to connect to the superintendent was something a lot of people were interested in.”

With Let’s Talk!, community members, including parents, staff and students, can submit questions, comments or concerns for Vesely, or about a specific topic or issue, through the district’s website. As ombudsman, Hirano uses the technology to triage responses with the superintendent and other district leaders and to ensure that every community member receives a timely and courteous response.

The technology has proved highly effective for managing feedback on critical issues, such as questions about special education and gifted and talented courses, Hirano says. When a school board member proposed the possibility of uniforms at one of the district’s schools, Vesely and her team turned to Let’s Talk! to solicit feedback from the community.

The district received 105 comments on the proposed uniform policy in less than a week. Vesely and her team then used that feedback in a presentation to the school board.

“People were giving us input, both pro and con,” says Hirano. “In under 10 minutes, I was able to generate a report and provide that to leadership.”

That kind of insight into parent or community sentiment simply wouldn’t be possible with something as basic as, say, email, she explains. “Let’s Talk! makes it possible to track where we are with an issue or concern, who that concern was referred to, and where it was referred from. The ability to go in and to find out where we are on a response or issue, to know the history of it, is extremely helpful.”

The district has been using Let’s Talk! for less than a year, and almost exclusively within the central office, but Hirano says there are plans to make the technology available at the site level soon. Looking forward, she says, Kyrene is exploring how it can leverage Let’s Talk! to communicate with parents ahead of back to school and other events, even during times when school offices are traditionally closed.

For Hirano, the role of ombudsman is about listening to the community and using that feedback to improve the school experience. Her take: “I think it’s been very helpful for Dr. Vesely and her leadership team to go into Let’s Talk! and say, ‘Is there something going on here? What is this telling us?’”

Are you looking to improve your school experience through community feedback? Want to create a better way for parents and staff to reach you with questions or concerns about critical school issues? Contact us today.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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