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Feedback gathered on superintendent's second 'Listening Tour' will shape future policy

In April, Kym LeBlanc-Esparza embarked on her second "listening tour" since becoming superintendent and once again she asked stakeholders not to hold any punches with their assessments of and aspirations for the Newberg School District.

LeBlanc-Esparza and former communications director Claudia Stewart met separately with various groups of students, parents, staff and community members to help inform district decision making in the coming years and she got what she was looking for. SETH GORDON - Newberg School District Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza observes a group of parents evaluate the school district's performance and what they want to see from it in the future during a stop on her Listening Tour in April.

In one of her final projects before retiring at the end of June, Stewart presented the school board with the results of the tour.

"Kim cautioned everybody that she wanted them to be particularly honest on their feedback and we got it," Stewart said. "Probably the group that was hardest on us were the kids themselves."

One of the major topics of discussions was the tour's "Portrait of a Graduate" portion, in which the district asked stakeholders what they think of when they hear "Newberg High School Graduate."

District staff sorted their responses into three broad categories and then compared their frequency to explore what different groups of stakeholders view as valuable for a high school graduate.

The three categories were: the five Cs of 21st Century Learning, which are communication, collaboration, citizenship, creative thinking and creativity; skills and knowledge, like technology, languages, finance and life skills; self-efficacy, which was explained as the belief in one's ability to succeed due to the development of things like work ethic, determination, integrity, compassion, resourcefulness and goal-setting.

A large part of the discussion at the board meeting centered on the disparity between how high school students and other groups like community members (employers), parents and school site councils ranked skills and knowledge versus self-efficacy.

The student responses indicated a high priority on skills and knowledge (62 percent) and relatively low importance on self-efficacy traits (18 percent), while the adult dominated groups had self-efficacy much closer to skills and knowledge. The site council, which mostly represents teachers and administrators but also parents, had the highest rating of self-efficacy at 50 percent and lowest for skills and knowledge (21 percent).

"My own personal experience with my kids says that self-efficacy, that gap needs to be narrowed," board chairman Todd Thomas said. "Whether it's parents or staff, kids need to leave knowing that they need to promote themselves from within and be prepared to be on their own. This tells me they're not thinking about that yet."

Other topics that stakeholders were asked to evaluate included facilities, school safety, workforce needs, school district performance, staff needs and parent engagement.

In terms of safety, the data showed that students feel safe from outside threats while at school, but conversely don't feel protected enough from internal and peer-based pressures like bullying, drugs and exposure to students who are unregulated.

"They talked about how it doesn't always feel safe emotionally at school," Stewart said. "That exposure to kids who are unregulated popped up in every one of the six table groups."

In their ratings of school performance on a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high), high school students rated the district between 5 to 7, on average, with site councils ranging from 4 to 7 and parents from 6 to 8.

Other major themes included teachers expressing the biggest obstacle between them and their goals is having enough time, while parents expressed frustration at poor communication from teachers, online access to grades, slow responses to emails and other engagement issues.

Stewart and LeBlanc-Espraza explained that they will use the feedback both in specific and focused areas, like their ongoing Portrait of a Graduate project, as well as to shape the district's broader goals and address its biggest problems.

"There are definitely some reasons for the numbers being what they are, but they also give us some great work to bite into, especially looking at Profile of a Graduate," LeBlanc-Esparza said.

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