Jamestown Public School Parent Survey accomplishes 78% Parent ParticipationJamestown Public Schools, Jamestown, RI
Written with Katherine Sipala, Superintendent of Schools
|Jamestown Public Schools used the information during strategic planning sessions and to engage parents on the most important issues.|
In over 30 years as an educator, I have been a classroom teacher, building-level administrator, and a district-level administrator, most recently serving as School Superintendent in Narragansett, RI. Education has changed dramatically over the past three decades, with increased expectations for accountability coming not only from the state and federal government, but from parents, also. There is more pressure than ever to serve our constituents well.
Communication with parents is one of the most important elements of effective education, although a historical review might show that the public school system to date may not have done a great job of soliciting and responding to parent feedback. Keeping those lines of communication open gives us an important perspective on our strengths and weaknesses, and provides feedback that test scores cannot provide. With the widespread use of email, communication with busy parents is now easier than ever, and electronic surveying is becoming one of the single most important tools available to us in education.
During my tenure as Superintendent in Jamestown, RI, the School Committee and the administration were grappling with the issue of how to best serve our middle school population. Jamestown is a small, island community, and over the years, our school-age population has declined. Recognizing the challenges in providing a robust middle school education to a shrinking population, we had to weigh the pros and cons of keeping our middle-schoolers on island or sending them off-island to another community's middle school, and we wanted to hear parents' opinions and concerns about this important issue.
Email was the ideal medium for this type of effort: the vast majority of households in Jamestown with school-age children have email access, and results could be tabulated as survey responses arrived, eliminating the laborious task of compiling and analyzing results on paper. However, surveying is a facet of education in which neither my peers nor I have much training. To ensure that our survey produced valid, usable data, we worked with the professionals at Survey Advantage, Inc.
Survey Advantage helped us write the survey questions and compile our email addresses; the whole process took only a few hours over the course of two weeks. They then launched our survey, sent a reminder email to parents who had not yet completed it, compiled results, and provided us a comprehensive, electronic report within days after the survey was complete, all well within the budget we had set for the project.
Our survey opened the floodgates of information, with 78% of our families responding. Parents feel strongly about their children's education, and they were so comfortable with the medium and so pleased to be asked for their input, that they gave us more information than we ever expected. Regarding the location of our middle school, the message from parents was absolutely clear: keep our middle-schoolers on the island, and provide them an outstanding education. This unambiguous direction was invaluable to us and allowed the administration and school committee to move past the question of whether we keep our students on-island, and start the hard work of figuring out how to provide an excellent middle school education on-island.
However, the real windfall for us came in all of the other valuable issues that parents raised. The survey quantified what parents feel we do well and where they feel we need to improve, giving the administration, school committee, and our school improvement teams clear messages about where they need to focus their attention to improve the quality of education we deliver. In retrospect, this was by far the greatest benefit of the survey.
Electronic surveying will be an important tool for school departments as they move into the 21st century. I could see using them at the end of each school year to ask parents how their student's year went and what we can do to improve, or when we need a quick scan of parents or the community on a particular issue. Communication has never been such an important part of education, and now, with electronic means, we can keep the lines of communication with our parents open, as we've never been able to do before. This will serve our educational system and our children very well."