The national student protests we’ve witnessed over the last few months are proof that students want a louder voice in their schools.
And not just when it comes to safety. Students also want a say in how they learn and succeed.
When officials at Rockbridge County Public Schools (RCPS) in western Virginia began a new strategic planning initiative, they wanted to ensure their students were heard.
“Students represent the pulse of our schools and community,” says assistant superintendent Haywood Hand, adding “it is our job to ensure their voices are inclusive and respected, so that we can prepare them to be life-ready in a rapidly changing world. Student voices are incredibly important to us.”
Taking the pulse of students
To ensure that every student got a chance to provide feedback on the future of their schools, RCPS partnered with K12 Insight to create and administer a Comprehensive Plan and Priorities Survey.
Together, the district and K12 Insight promoted the survey and shared why it was important for parents and guardians, employees, and students in grades 9-12 to participate.
With student voices being so critical to this conversation, RCPS leaders didn’t want to leave student participation in the survey to chance. School leaders encouraged students to participate by being transparent about the survey’s purpose and reserving time in the school computer lab for them take the survey.
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Hand says a key target of the survey was high school students:
“High school voices are particularly important in this conversation–because that’s where the rubber hits the road, and students start making salient decisions about their lives. We instructed our students to be honest and transparent, and that’s what they delivered.”
After the survey closed, the research team at K12 Insight gathered the data and shared their findings with the community and the local school board. They also led workshops for community members and administrators and helped create a list of priorities.
“We felt very comfortable with K12 Insight,” says Hand. “They instantly became part of our working family, and they have been extremely sensitive to our overall efforts, supporting us with clear direction, open communication, and intentional follow through.”
Students make themselves heard
The district was especially excited to find that 52 percent of all responses to the survey came from high school students. Proof that efforts to amplify student voice were paying off.
The survey revealed some surprising, but important perception gaps between students and staff. One important finding was that students ranked learning a second language as the third most important priority for their success, while staff members ranked it in the bottom five.
Another surprise for school leaders was the fact that students ranked drug and substance abuse as a top issue for the district to tackle. “That was eye-opening,” says Hand. “As a result, we added local agency representatives on our comprehensive planning committee so that they are aware and have an opportunity to interact with some of our students. I’m not convinced we would have found out about this student concern if not for the survey.”
As school leaders continues to review the survey results, one thing is certain: student voices will continue to drive important changes in the division.
“Everything that we do should be focused around a student-centric model, and we want to make sure we’re aligning our beliefs with our behaviors,” Hand says. “Students should feel validated. They have to be the central-focus of everything we do, especially when we declare new instructional initiatives and promote curriculum and program changes.”
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