In her report on the results of the 2017 school climate and culture surveys to the Newberg School Board in late June, Communications Coordinator Claudia Stewart kicked off one of her final official duties before retirement by getting a little meta.
Since the Newberg School District began distributing the staff and parent questionnaires developed by the National Center for School Leadership (NCSL) in 2014, district leadership has been vocal about its intent to use the data as a tool for performance review and strategic planning.
Stewart reported to the board that those two key stakeholder audiences also seem to recognize the value of the survey, as staff participation soared 39 percent this past spring, with parents surging 31 percent.
So even though some important insights were gained from the data, one of the biggest takeaways was essentially about the survey itself.
"Clearly, staff are getting the message that not only are we consulting this data and reading this data, but we're taking action with it, we're actually doing something with it," Stewart said. "So I think people are a little more willing to respond to it."
Stewart said she also made some changes to the survey and that may also have played a role in the increase, which grew from 333 to 463 participants to push the overall rate of staff participation to 74 percent. Because the district administered the survey itself for the first time, Stewart also streamlined the questionnaire by eliminating redundant or irrelevant questions.
This change also gave district staff, including principals, the ability to disaggregate and analyze the data themselves, with the downside being that the district no longer has access to the national data to make comparisons.
In the staff survey, Stewart highlighted a few areas that the NCSL had previously identified as strengths because they outpaced national averages, including an increase in whether staff knows what's expected of them (90 percent).
Others dropped slightly but are still considered strengths, including that staff feel safe at work (down from 84 to 82 percent) and have freedom to do their jobs (80 to 72 percent).
Among the areas considered as challenges to address, the district did see the rate of dissatisfaction drop in staff's evaluation of the amount of professional development (PD) from 35 to 29 percent, while the rates for the amount of work being unreasonable (35) and relevance of PD (25) remained steady.
The rate for dissatisfaction with the amount of collaboration time with their peers jumped from 26 to 40 percent, but Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza took that as a positive indication that staff is increasingly realizing the value of that time as a result of the district strongly emphasizing it.
Participation among parents rose from 853 to 1,124, but the rate of Hispanic parents lagged significantly despite district efforts to better market and increase access to the survey.
The biggest takeaway seemed to be some decrease in the dissatisfaction level of some connected areas, like checking online resources or being informed of their child's academic progress and clear expectations for their child's work, but district leadership still consider those as areas for further improvement.
"It really informs school leaders of what their staff and parents are thinking, what those opinions are," Stewart said. "You hope there are no surprises, but there might be. We got lots and lots of comments in this survey, so hopefully it will be a useful tool for them."