Families & the Community

Districts Use Web Polls to Survey Parents on Hot Topics

By Dave Aekins, St. Cloud Times — April 19, 2011 5 min read

In the St. Cloud school district in Minnesota, staff members used a parent-communications system to survey families on the phone and through email about the best time to have spring break.

Seeking opinions on spring break and on a possible fall referendum, the Sauk Rapids-Rice district, also in Minnesota, used a free Web-based survey tool to measure family and community response.

Improved electronic methods are allowing school districts in Minnesota and across the country to reach parents and community members rapidly and get an almost instant reply when seeking information about school policies and practices.

While they won’t replace public meetings and face-to-face discussions with community groups, electronic surveys are providing schools with better and more efficient responses from the people whom their decisions will affect the most.

“We recognize that families are busy. We know it is very difficult to make the time or have the time to attend the meeting. These surveys provide an opportunity for parents to provide input at their convenience,” Sauk Rapids-Rice Superintendent Dan Bittman said.

And what’s happening in Minnesota reflects a national trend, said Keith R. Krueger, chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking. And while not every district is engaging in Web polling to get feedback from its community, Mr. Krueger said they should be thinking about doing so.

“We think online surveys are a great way to get student, parent, and teacher input, especially since there are many free survey tools available,” Mr. Krueger said in an email. “It is a very good metric to examine, namely, how our ‘customers’ feel. And, while it is used by some, it should be used by all districts.”

Timing of Spring Break

St. Cloud Superintendent Bruce Watkins said he was considering shifting the district’s annual spring break from March to February to coincide with Presidents Day.

He asked the media-services staff to develop a question through the district’s parent-messaging system to capture the opinions of parents. The 10,000-student district sent a message out a day in advance telling parents that they would be asked the next day when they wanted spring break. People were given the heads-up so they could have a calendar nearby and have some time to think about the question. Others who missed the calls sent their opinions in through email.

The calls went out, and the ditrict received more than 2,000 responses. Overwhelmingly, people preferred the March spring break. The results ended the discussion of a February break.

“I think we are just pleased we know it’s available for topics that might come up in future. We want it as a readily available tool,” Mr. Watkins said of the communications system.

The 3,200-student Sartell-St. Stephen district in Minnesota is using regular Facebook and Twitter updates to inform parents about school events and policy proposals. Most recently, the district updated its Facebook page shortly after school board members approved a plan that shifted some students from one school to another.

School districts typically have a student-tracking system, but the most recent versions have included ways that allow the schools to interact with parents and for the parents to follow their children’s progress, easily contact teachers, and quickly find attendance records. Those systems also give schools the ability to quickly reach parents to alert them of schedule changes and emergencies. They’re used, for example, to announce weather-related school closings.

Survey Challenges

The 2,400-student Rocori, Minn., school district has the same system as St. Cloud’s and is contemplating using it to survey parents as it plans for an effort to renew a tax increase that voters approved in 2001. The tax is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. Without it, the district would lose about $300,000 a year.

“You have to keep in mind the audience and the kind of feedback you are getting,” Rocori Superintendent Scott Staska said.

A vote on a property-tax increase would require opinions from a wider audience than just the list of parents that the school district can contact. The 3,800-student Sauk Rapids-Rice district is using a website called Survey Monkey, which offers free polling. The survey asks some demographic questions and then asks specific questions about desires for programs and at what level someone might support a tax increase. The district has close to 1,000 responses.“This tool has been very effective, and we continue to use it,” Mr. Bittman said,

The survey tool is not perfect. There is no way to limit it to just Sauk Rapids-Rice district residents, and someone could take the survey multiple times.

Sauk Rapids-Rice also used the Web survey to gauge opinions on whether parents wanted a week-long spring break added to the school calendar beyond the three days off planned around Easter. That vote was a resounding no.

St. Cloud used its messaging system to get a similar answer and was pleased with the results. But Mr. Watkins said the district has to be careful about when and how the system is used, and he is uncertain when it might get used again.

“It was quick. It was immediate. We happened to ask questions that were easily defined by selection choice,” Mr. Watkins said. “We know that there are some negatives we are going to try to work with.”

Some people don’t want to be bothered with anything that is not specific to their own children, Mr. Watkins said. Others just want emergency calls. And the district is discovering that phone numbers change frequently.

The St. Cloud district this winter asked parents and community members to suggest ideas for budget reductions by filling out a form on the website.

“We have used the Web in the past. We wanted to use this one because we assume not everyone has Web access,” said Gary Ganje, the supervisor of media services for the St. Cloud schools.

Many of the district’s Somali parents do not have Internet access or they are not able to read an email message in English, Mr. Watkins said.

The phone messages are spoken, and the district uses a translator to ask the questions in Somali. Students in the district speak about 40 primary languages. The district is able to easily translate for about five of them.

Other surveys have been done using regular mail. But that carries a cost and a dismal return rate, Mr. Watkins said.

“We will be cautious to maintain it for priority issues,” Mr. Watkins said.

Related Tags:

Copyright © 2011, St. Cloud Times. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
A version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2011 edition of Education Week as Districts’ Web-Polling Tools Survey Parents on Hot Topics

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Opinion Vaccinating Teachers Is Just One Part of the Reopening Puzzle
Winning parents' trust back is every bit as important in bringing every student back into the classroom.
Ruth R. Faden, Matthew A. Crane, Annette Anderson & Megan Collins
5 min read
Vaccine vials and a syringe on a flat surface
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty<br/>
Families & the Community Photos PHOTOS: Schools as COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics
A look at how and where school districts are using their facilities to host Covid-19 vaccination clinics.
Education Week Photo Staff
1 min read
Vaccine recipients meet with shot givers at the Anchorage School District headquarters. The Anchorage School District headquarters hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Anchorage, Alaska, on February 3, 2021.
Vaccine recipients meet with shot givers at the Anchorage School District headquarters. The Anchorage School District headquarters hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Anchorage, Alaska, on February 3, 2021.
Marc Lester/for Education Week
Families & the Community Audio A Storm, Power Outages, and a Pandemic: Texas Educators and Families Describe a School Year Upended
On top of the deadly pandemic, millions of people in Texas lost heat and water for days after a winter storm. Hear how families and educators coped.
2 min read
Jack Fitzgerald, 14, an 8th grader at Hogg Middle School in Houston, Texas, plays Rocket League at home this week when school was cancelled because of icy weather and widespread power outages. Jack's family had to stay with friends briefly when their home lost power and indoor temperatures plunged.
Jack Fitzgerald, 14, an 8th grader at Hogg Middle School in Houston, Texas, plays Rocket League at home this week when school was cancelled because of icy weather and widespread power outages. Jack's family had to stay with friends briefly when their home lost power and indoor temperatures plunged.
Courtesy of Ginny Goldman
Families & the Community Leader To Learn From Relying on Community Values: How One School Leader Advocates for Vulnerable Families
Carissa Purnell’s work at the Family Resource Centers in Salinas, Calif., is a lifeline for families, many of them migrant farm workers.
7 min read
Carissa Purnell, director of the Family Resource Centers for the Alisal Union School District in Salinas, Calif.
Carissa Purnell, director of the Family Resource Centers for Alisal Union School District in Salinas, Calif., provides essential services and critical information to vulnerable families.
Nic Coury for Education Week