DCSD plans community survey

Work underway to gather cost estimates

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The Douglas County School District plans to conduct a community survey, the first since 2012, school leaders said during the board of education's June 3 meeting.

A timeline for the next survey isn't set. Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said staff will research costs and options for a third-party professional survey and return to the board with recommendations in late summer or early fall.

Once done annually, a district survey hasn't been conducted since 2012, when DCSD discounted the 6 percent response rate as too small to be statistically valid.

Community members in attendance, many of whom repeatedly have requested the return of a survey, applauded the news.

Board president Kevin Larsen said the survey will attempt to determine if the community understands and supports DCSD's strategic plan.

The plan, introduced in 2011, outlines the district's roadmap for reforming education, including its choice programming, world-class education initiatives and system performance tools that allow DCSD to measure the results of its initiatives.

“I think it's a great idea, too,” Fagen said, noting DCSD is about to release an updated version of the strategic plan. “I think it's a great time to go out and gather feedback.”

To avoid the low response rate generated during the 2012 survey, Fagen said, “We'd really like to work through a third party that does this professionally to make sure we do get appropriate response rates (and) sample sizes, and that we use strategies beyond sending around email links. Those haven't proven to necessarily be the best and most reliable strategies.”

That could mean the survey will be conducted in a variety of ways, including door-to-door and over the phone.

Questions posed in the survey must be “sound and give us the data we're looking for,” Fagen said, “not vague and don't tell us the information behind the response.”

“We'd want to have some robust dialogue about what those questions would be,” Larsen said.

Some parents, who believe the surveys are needed to gauge community satisfaction with the district's policies and direction, requested the survey's return during the March 3 Board Unplugged meeting; Larsen said then he would address that request.

While not specific to K-12 education, a 2014 county-sponsored survey showed a decline in positive impressions of Douglas County as a place with good schools and educational opportunities.

The 2012 district survey, taken by nearly 5,000 parents, showed general satisfaction with their children's education. But more than 50 percent gave unfavorable ratings to the voucher program, 48 percent questioned whether the district was wisely allocating resources, and 39 percent responded “unfavorable” when asked if the district was headed in the right direction.