Survey Asks Parents Why They Left District | Webster Kirkwood … – Webster-Kirkwood Times, Inc.

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Updated: January 30, 2023 @ 8:35 am

The Kirkwood School District recently introduced a new tool to help administrators gather data when families choose to transfer out of the district.
Launched in the summer of 2022, the survey asks parents why they chose to leave and what highlights or concerns they had during their time with the district. Surveys were issued to those who left after the 2020-2021 school year and the 2021-2022 school year, with plans to continue the trend for every academic year going forward. 
Matt Bailey, assistant superintendent of student services, presented the exit survey data at two school board work sessions in August and October 2022.
“We looked at anybody who has transferred out for any reason, whether it was they moved to another state, another area within Missouri, they chose homeschool or they chose private school,” he said.
Of the 428 students who transferred out in 2020-2021, as well as 340 from 2021-2022, the district received 67 and 77 surveys respectively.
Bailey noted that transfers out of the district were higher than previous years in the 2020-2021 school year, likely due to COVID-related concerns. Approximately 60% of those who transferred to homeschooling during that year returned for the next year, and as of October 2022, the number of transfers out is the lowest it’s been since the 2017-2018 school year.
The surveys also asked parents to rate their satisfaction with certain aspects of the district including academic programs, teachers, extracurriculars, safety/security, administration, special education, communication and addressing concerns.
Data skewed largely positive for the 2020-2021 school year, with “addressing my concerns” being the only negative-leaning topic, and special education leaning neutral. For the 2021-2022 school year, survey data skewed largely negative, with teachers, safety and extracurriculars as the only topics skewed positively.
The surveys also gave parents a chance to leave comments. Bailey said the surveys turned up “lots and lots” of comments explaining that their child’s transfer had nothing to do with the district itself, and was instead the result of a move or a prior plan to attend private school.
Of the negative comments, Bailey noted several major themes — communication, curriculum, discipline/bullying, special education, technology, diversity, equity and inclusion, and library books.
Common Threads
The Times was contacted by several parents who have experienced dissatisfaction with or removed their children from the district over the past few years. Their complaints were largely in line with the results of the surveys.
Two of Bobby Shah’s kids moved to private schools this school year. Despite the Kirkwood School District “nurturing and caring” for his children, he felt the district didn’t meet their needs.
“The two things that came up were just not pushing kids hard enough and not addressing the needs for all kids,” Shah said. “Everybody from the ground up has treated us with nothing but the utmost respect, and while I feel like everyone is willing to listen, there’s a lack of ability to change. Our whole experience is that they are so infatuated with the data that they’re simply missing what’s really happening on a day to day level.”
Shah said he noticed inconsistencies in the way teachers communicate with parents from classroom to classroom, as well as a lack of access to curriculum at Nipher Middle School.
“You never knew what to expect,” said Shah. “When someone has your kids for eight hours a day, you want a little consistency.”
Jean Ducey, a former Kirkwood teacher, said she left the district because her children with individual education plans (IEPs) were not receiving enough individual attention.
“We had a huge problem getting support for our kids because they fell through the cracks. They were giving help with extreme issues, but not for our kids,” said Ducey. “I don’t think anyone’s doing it intentionally. I think so many things are out of control there that this is just at the bottom of the barrel.”
Sarah Johnson moved her child to a private school because she felt the focus on social justice and diversity was “distracting from core academics.”
“They would have an ethnic name with pronouns that would be this or that in math class. It really has nothing to do with math at all. Just state the problem. It doesn’t matter whether they’re wearing a rainbow shirt or not,” said Johnson. “The things they had to read were ultra depressing, like a book about suicide or a book where a kid died from a police shooting. Why are they having to read this political crap? It was taking away from what they’re learning. It got to a point where I was just sending them into the lion’s den.”
Several parents said the district had failed on numerous occasions to follow its own policies. One such example was the selection of books for school assignments and the availability of books in school libraries. Following numerous parents challenging “inappropriate” books available to students at school board meetings, the district began publicly discussing its selection process. But according to Kirkwood School District parent Courtney Rawlins, she’s been having the same conversation with the district since 2019.
“I feel like Kirkwood’s approach — not just to the books — is denial, dismissal and deflection. The senior administrators have an uncanny ability to not answer questions. I will send an email back and I will literally highlight the very specific and easy-to-answer questions they didn’t answer (about policy and procedure adherence), and they just wordsmith their way around things.”
Rawlins, who is on the district’s Curriculum Review Committee, said she would like to see a more open dialogue between parents and administrators going forward.
“My goal is to strengthen the district. Things have been so divisive,” she said. “The solution would be for the administrators and board to dialogue productively with parents. Everything becomes an us versus them, and it doesn’t need to be.”
Working On Solutions
According to Bailey, the district is working to improve the issues highlighted in the exit surveys. Some, like COVID-related concerns including masking and social distancing, have worked themselves out naturally. Others have been in progress for a long time.
“Some comments were literally, ‘Stop being a woke liberal.’ I’m not sure we can do anything about that,” said Bailey. “But we can take action on things like ‘I didn’t receive any information for four weeks after I registered for school.’”
To address transparency issues regarding book selection, the district recently implemented templates to be filled out for all challenged books. Librarians fill out these templates with an explanation for why each book was chosen, how they relate to the curriculum and any relevant professional reviews or age recommendations. Parents can also opt out their child from checking out specific books.
Regarding curriculum, parents can now access school curriculum for all grade levels at www.kirkwoodschools.org/Domain/2114. Efforts are underway as part of a routine curriculum review to make middle school math programs more consistent between the two middle schools.
To prevent students from falling through the cracks, the district employs an “early warning system” — a system based on student data that identifies students with a pattern of academic or behavioral challenges that might indicate they need extra help. 
To improve communication, the district has rolled out a program called “Let’s Talk.” Similar to a switchboard, parents can use the chat function on the district’s website or the Kirkwood Schools app to have their questions or concerns sent to the right person.
“While we encourage open communication between a child’s parent and their teacher, ‘Let’s Talk’ provides an opportunity for parents to start a conversation with the district specifically,” said Steph Deidrick, the district’s chief communications officer. “We know individuals might not know who they need to talk to. It focuses on topic-based inquiries. So you can go onto ‘Let’s Talk’ and say, ‘I have a question about communication and engagement,’ and that question will get to the right person without you having to look through our directory.
“On the back end, it has analytics so we can see if we’re getting a lot of inquiries about a particular issue or topic,” Deidrick continued. “It will allow us to better address that and see if there’s a concern a lot of individuals are reaching out to us about. Also, the analytics ensure we’re being responsive. We try to respond to any inquiry that comes into ‘Let’s Talk’ within two business days. If that’s not happening, we can see that and we can address it quickly.”
“Let’s Talk” also allows users to rate their interactions with the district so administrators can see if they’re getting it right or missing the mark.
Deidrick added that the district polls its current families twice a year regarding their satisfaction with their school experience.
“At the end of last spring, we had some statistics that 82% of those who responded felt the district was doing a good job of communication with families, and 84% felt we were retaining high-quality staff,” she said. “ It’s not just when people leave. We’re also looking at data we’re getting throughout the year.”
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