Washington district engages with its community using innovative communication platform
When Linda Quinn became superintendent of Washington’s Ferndale School District in 2009, it was the start of a new era for the district, one that included some unprecedented challenges. “The previous superintendent had served for 19 years, so this was a new start,” she says. “And when I took over, the Great Recession was just starting to have a significant economic impact. The district had enjoyed solid funding for many years and built a lot of programs with money that was no longer available, unfortunately. Some difficult decisions needed to be made.”
As a result, Quinn and the board of education had a goal of improving community engagement in the district, which serves 4,800 students and is located about 15 miles from the U.S.-Canada border. “We created advisory committees on different topics, for example,” Quinn says. “But we also wanted to enable people to have a voice who perhaps didn’t have time to attend community meetings. So we approached K12 Insight and began using their platform about four years ago.”
K12 Insight provides communication technologies designed specifically for school districts, enabling administrators to elicit feedback from parents, staff, students and community members. K12 Insight also helps administrators obtain detailed feedback on specific topics; analyze, interpret and understand the subsequent findings to make informed decisions; and then communicate those findings back to the groups impacted by those decisions.
“K12 Insight helped us create community perception surveys to identify the priorities of the community,” Quinn says. “When you’re considering decisions that may be controversial, you may hear from people who insist that their opinion represents the community, but it can be hard to know if that is accurate. Most people who come to board meetings come to oppose, not support, initiatives. And so these surveys helped us get a more objective analysis.”
Quinn says one of the many advantages of K12 Insight is that its services and capabilities extend far beyond just survey deployment. “I’ve used surveys before, but the problem I always ran into was having so much data that you couldn’t process it all,” she says. “K12 Insight offers analytics tools, which organize your results and make them easy to understand, even with thousands of responses.”
One of the examples Quinn has learned from was a recent bond issue for new construction. “We knew we needed to improve our facilities, so we presented a very large bond issue to build a new school, but that was strongly defeated,” she says. “So I approached K12 Insight for advice on what to do next. They worked with us to create community focus groups to discuss the topic, and then we deployed a short survey to find out where we went wrong, what people disagreed with, and what they would support instead. For example, we learned that a lot of people felt we moved too fast and they didn’t have enough time to process the decision. So we’re modifying our process based on the feedback that we gained.”
The latest feature Ferndale has started using is Let’s Talk!, an online tool which provides an easy way for anyone to offer feedback on the district web site, as well as data-analysis tools to organize the feedback into actionable information. “We just started using Let’s Talk!, and it represents another part of our commitment to improving two-way communication with our community,” Quinn says. “K12 Insight has so many capabilities that we could never have on our own. Partnering with them has been a great relationship.”
For more information, go to www.k12insight.com.