In our June 5th blog post (scroll below), we discussed a survey being conducted by the Rolla (Mo.) Public Schools. This is part two of that article.
Rolla wanted to “check in” with community members and get a read on their level of satisfaction with the district’s performance and its delivery of the promised projects on the last bond issue.
A random sample of 375 area heads of households was contacted via telephone, producing statistically reliable data that has an industry standard 5 percent Margin of Error. To make certain those who wished to comment were not left out, a companion online survey was made available through the district’s website and promoted actively. A total of 249 individuals completed this survey, meaning more than 600 people expressed their opinion between the phone and online surveys.
The news was very positive: The community continues to think very highly of the people, programs and facilities, and it feels a real sense of belonging, as you read the evaluations of the district/patron relationship factors.
In terms of the bond issue, there were plenty of good marks for the district on keeping its promises made during the campaign, keeping the community informed along the way and delivering high-quality facilities.
The only slight blemish? They want more communication – a common call among school district patrons, and further proof of a saying of Patron Insight, “If you think you have told the community about something often enough, the answer is always ‘No.’”
As long as the school district seems to be going along smoothly and staying off the front page of the newspaper, they focus on the other worries in their lives.
If that’s the case, what’s the big deal about cornering them, until they give you their opinion?
There are several reasons why the silent majority has to be nudged into speaking up. One of the most important times where their opinion matters – whether they think so or not – is during your strategic planning process.
While your playbook may be somewhat different, the typical strategic planning undertaking is typically led by a committee consisting of business and civic leaders, perhaps members of the faith community, and staff from your district. District leadership plays the role of subject matter expert, or SME, whenever the committee has a question.
Mixed in with this group process is often a series of focus groups, and interviews with Board members, the district cabinet, and community thought leaders. All this data gets put into a meat grinder of sorts, trying to determine what this cross-section of humanity wants for the district for the next five years.
The problem with these being your only sources of data is they are waist-deep in the district – if not at the beginning, by the end. What about the typical resident? What does he or she think?
To solve this problem, collect the data to the point where you are beginning to really narrow the focus and conduct a brief telephone survey of your community. Let them be the spot-checker on your thinking – what sounds good and what you may have forgotten in your zest.
Camdenton School District in Missouri followed our strategic planning process with the outcome being a well thought out five-year plan, created by “the people of this district.” View the district’s plan on our website.
Guest column by Sue Givens, superintendent, El Dorado Public Schools – Kan.
The phone conversation from more than two decades ago is as fresh in my mind as if it were this morning. No principal looks forward to a call from their superintendent reporting a complaint. Even though I was an experienced administrator, I was immediately defensive.
As the superintendent shared the parent’s concern, I offered factual rebuttals, trying my best to remain professional, while fighting a growing anger at what seemed an unfair attack. Finally, after relaying the complete complaint, and after my last argument, the superintendent was silent. Crickets.
After a few seconds that felt like hours, he asked quietly, “But what if you’re wrong?” I was speechless. I had expected his advice, support, even admonition, but I hadn’t expected this question. He closed the conversation, before I could respond, with a simple, “Think about it.”
It caused me to reflect from a different perspective, from the possibility that even though we’ve researched, processed, surveyed, and piloted, maybe we missed something. Maybe we could improve. Maybe we could rethink. And God forbid, maybe we, in all our wisdom, were wrong.
That simple, quiet question haunted me. I’ve found myself applying it throughout my career to concerns that are voiced from students, parents, teachers, colleagues and Board members. As leaders, we assume much ownership for our actions, decisions, procedures and programs. We apply our professional expertise, training and experience. We take it personally, when we are questioned, and we don’t expect to be wrong. But we can be.
As superintendent, I often pose this question, in both individual and group discussions. Asking, “What if you’re wrong?” always requires humble reflection and sometimes requires courageous correction in our constant quest for leadership with integrity.