Gathering feedback and getting it to our decision makers

Pain point: Giving the district feedback

Trying to get the district to hear us often feels like screaming into an abyss. Our school board members get thousands of emails and have their own jobs and families to take care of on top of their duties, so sometimes a standard response is all they have time for. Our administration risks their emails being taken out of context and posted on social media, or used in a lawsuit. Some of us use the public comment time at our school board meetings to get our points across, but there is no opportunity for back and forth dialogue.  Plus there are barriers to getting there…most of us work full time, some people at night, our kids have extracurriculars, partners travel for work, babysitters are expensive. And standing up to speak in public can be nerve wracking.

What is real data? Not 18 speakers…

Our parent group has been asking for surveys and town halls for over a year now because we believe in supporting our decision makers with real data. Relying on the few of us who can get to meetings to be the voice of the parents of 13,000 students is really unfair. There were at least three of us who stood up last week to express our disappointment that the board decided to postpone their vote regarding Wit and Wisdom after counting 12 people speaking out against it and 6 people in favor of it. We think that to use a sample size of 18 speakers as a datapoint is ludicrous. To be honest, they’d be more accurate to assume that the 12 people speaking out against the program are the ONLY people opposed to it, since it’s much more likely that the majority of our district either trusts our curriculum team to do their job, or they just don’t care enough either way.

Steps in the right direction

We applaud the district’s recent efforts to get more feedback from us. So far, in the last approximate year, there have been audits/focus groups run by the CCIU focused on mental health, communications, later start times, and the superintendent search. We like that they allowed the CCIU (a third party) to act as an “impartial” moderator, and they broke out smaller groups by demographics (i.e. students, parents, certain minorities, etc…) to facilitate more open and easy discussions. These are proven market research tactics and we appreciate the effort on both the conversations and the thorough analyses offered afterward to the public. Our only suggested path forward from there would be to take those insights and use them to develop an actual survey that could provide a larger sample size.

What about Town Halls and Comment sheets? 

We were also excited to hear the suggestion of Town Halls, and last week’s committee of the whole meeting discussed at length the tentative process and date for the first one. The topic for this would be the elementary school construction options to implement full day kindergarten. The proposed date was May 24th, which unfortunately is coming up quickly and conflicts with many end of year events. Comments from both board members and the public stated that this makes it seem rushed and almost like lip service. This is especially true because there is SO. Much. Information that needs to be shared with the public so that we could even ask intelligent questions. So much information that the board has been digesting it already for months. Waiting until the meeting to present it to us and asking for our comments right away is really unfair. The idea of sending out materials ahead of time was proposed, and there is a video that Ms. Shealy has already put together that just needs some tweaking. We hope to see those soon.

By the same token, the Wit and Wisdom curriculum being laid out in the admin building and having comment sheets also seems like lip service to the antis, and is hardly a valid method of data collection. The team of curriculum experts that DASD has assembled spent months researching it; do we really expect a bunch of unqualified citizens to add anything of value on a comment sheet after glancing over the books and materials? And besides this, we still maintain that most families who are fine with the curriculum will not comment. So…if the district is simply providing transparency, that is fine. But we do hope that they will not be counting comments like they have during the public comment session. 

We also still maintain that the district should not have to do this…never before has a new curriculum been so scrutinized by parents, and we would really like everyone to get back to trusting our educators.

Elections provide real data

We mentioned it last week, and we’ll repeat it here…if you are looking for real data, there’s always election data. This past November, four seats were up: 

  • One race saw a progressive candidate flip the seat from red to blue over an extremely conservative candidate, winning by 7%. 
  • In a race between a moderate conservative and a progressive, the seat again flipped blue, by only 2%. 
  • One seat saw the progressive incumbent beat her very conservative opponent by 8%. 
  • The last seat famously went from blue to red by a measly two votes, leaving our School board with a 6-3 supermajority of Democrats. 

While a school board should not be political, it is made up of elected officials who run on platforms and their values represent the values of the majority of our district. That’s how our democracy works and true patriots respect this process.

We like Balance

We have been beating this feedback drum since the pandemic started, and we have always stood by making data-driven decisions. It is also critical to collect feedback in ways that are accessible to a diverse cross section of parents. We appreciate the upcoming town halls and we hope to see more market research protocol based surveys. 

We also need to realize that the board was elected to do a job, and they, along with admin, have more information than we do. If they had to consult the public on every small decision that they make, our district would come to a grinding halt. Without proper feedback methods in place, we would be better off simply allowing our board to vote with the values that got them elected, rather than by using the public comment sessions as a data point to influence their decisions. Public comment sessions are notorious for being filled with privileged and frequently angry people, and based on November’s elections, they do not even reflect the progressive values shared by the majority of our district.

We need to find a balance between transparency and trust. And we need the district to hear balanced feedback as well. If you have a positive story to share with our admin and board, please make sure that they know you think they are doing a great job. They need to hear it now more than ever.

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