Parents’ voices important in success of schools

School administrators, teachers and students are on the front lines of whether a school is achieving the success it desires. But parents are also part of the equation, making their voices crucial in the overall development and promotion of the school.

The Catholic Schools Office has encouraged all 27 Catholic schools in the state to conduct a parent satisfaction survey this month to gauge how they feel about a school’s strengths and weaknesses and also their likelihood to recommend the school to other parents.

“It’s important because through the parent satisfaction survey, the parents will often share what they may not share with you otherwise,” said Marguerite Olberts, associate superintendent of Catholic Schools. “It gives you a window into their perspective.”

The anonymous 11-question online survey, sent primarily through the Catholic Schools Office’s Survey Monkey account, asks parents a variety of questions, including changes they’d like to see in their school to give it a higher overall rating, how likely they are to keep their child at the school and a space for parents to offer suggestions. A few questions also give parents a chance to rate areas of interest as not important or extremely important and how satisfied they are with technology at the school, the principal, the teachers, lunch program and other topics.

“We see the survey results come in there and we send that feedback out to the principals,” for schools that use the Catholic Schools Office Survey Monkey account rather than their own, Olberts said.

Chuck Toomer, president of the Diocesan Board of Education, was “key in the creation of the survey,” Olberts said. Toomer, who has served as president about four years, said the survey was born out of a strategic plan for the Catholic schools.

“I think it’s important for them to do the survey on a yearly basis in order to measure the satisfaction of their parents so they can in turn make improvements on the education their kids receive,” he said.


Technology, mental health

Fifteen schools sent out the survey last year. Catholic High School in Little Rock had a response of more than 700, with enrollment at 750 students. Schools can also add additional questions unique to their school, something principal Steve Straessle did for Catholic High.

“It underscored our beliefs more than anything else. What our strengths are and what our challenges are,” he said. “We knew that upgrading technology was important to the parents. That’s one of the reasons we did the renovation of the school,” with improvements made throughout the past three or four years, adding “We renovated the entire building now and have the capacity to upgrade the technology on a more fluid basis.”

Parents’ concerns about technology covered it all, from using technology in the classrooms to their IT infrastructure.

“We knew that they appreciate the discipline and tradition and the idea it’s a level playing field at Catholic High,” which was confirmed by the survey.

Straessle also said the survey revealed that parents were concerned about mental health issues. Training for staff to recognize warning signs has “been a little more focused,” he said.

“There’s a growing sense that depression and anxiety are more obvious features of growing up as a teenager nowadays. Schools have to be ready to address that,” Straessle said. “As a school with teenage boys who commonly don’t emote as much as others, it’s incumbent of us to notice the triggers and warning signs and more subtle indicators.”


Communication is key

St. Joseph School in Conway distributed the survey to parents from their elementary, middle and high schools. The highest turnout was from elementary school parents, said Matt Tucker, who was the elementary school building principal when the survey was conducted. This year, he is the middle school principal. Diane Wolfe is principal of the high school and Courtney Pope is principal of the elementary school building. 

“I can think we have the pulse of the heartbeat of the school, but the parents will let you know the true view of the school,” Tucker said. “We may fail to see what that does in terms of student achievement or engagement.”

High school parents were concerned about enforcements of the dress code, as the school has made changes including less color options and a specific plaid skirt pattern the female students voted on.

“The parents didn’t feel there was a consistent enforcement and she’s (Wolfe) addressing that and bringing more enforcement, making sure it’s implemented,” Tucker said.

While younger grades have Chromebooks in the classroom, middle school students must purchase their own devices. Making sure students are better prepared in third grade to understand the program at home so they do not have to rely on their parents has been a priority.

“We do work a lot out of our Google Classroom. That’s not something parents are used to working out of. They were like me, paper and pencil,” Tucker said.

Tucker said the feedback was “overly positive.” One of the most common complaints was about Common Core being taught. However, Catholic schools do not follow Common Core like public schools.

“I think that one of the changes that has occurred is better communication has been put in place,” said Diane Wolfe. “… We’re in the digital age, so we have really upped our technology,” in the form of emailed newsletters, a mobile app, texting and an online parent portal.

Though the survey is important to gauge how parents feel, a school cannot change their philosophy or identity to satisfy a few.

“We can’t be all things to all people and chase every fad or shoot from the hip request,” Straessle said. “But on the other hand, we have to maintain who we are and add the things we think that will make who we are better.”

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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