Columbia Public Schools receive mostly good grades in survey

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | 6:42 p.m. CST; updated 7:21 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 28, 2010

COLUMBIA— Columbia Public Schools received an overall “B” rating on their performance from the community in survey results released Tuesday.

The public schools commissioned Patron Insight, a strategic communications firm in Kansas City, to survey members of the community on their level of satisfaction with the schools.

Participants were asked 54 questions on school-related topics, including performance of teachers and principals, quality of education, student safety, class size and value for tax dollars spent.

A number of other questions dealt with effectiveness of communication from the district and sources of news about Columbia Public Schools.

In October and November, 400 people living within district boundaries were surveyed by telephone, and 1,340 were asked to provide their opinions online.

“We hear more negative than good,” Superintendent Chris Belcher said. “The good part of this survey is that we get the broad perspective because sometimes we only seem to get the extremes.”

The first part of the survey asked respondents to grade from "A" to "F" a series of topics on people, facilities, program, as well as their interaction with the district. The survey also asked the respondents to grade the district's overall performance.

Among the areas where Columbia schools received the highest marks were:

  • Performance of district employees in making respondents feel welcome when they visit a school or attend an event (4.49 on a 5-point scale).
  • Performance of district teachers (4.38).
  • Performance of school principals (4.28).
  • Quality of school facilities (4.17).
  • Preparation of students for college, vocational training or employment (4.16).

A 3.80 was considered a grade of "B." Areas that received marks lower than a "B" were:

  • Balance of spending on academics and extracurricular activities (3.78).
  • The district's record on making and fulfilling promises (3.73).
  • The district's effort to involve citizens in decision-making (3.69).
  • The district's responsiveness to patron concerns (3.56).
  • Class sizes (3.52).
  • The district's performance in closing the achievement gap among students (3.47).

“It's really good scores and a really good foundation. There are certainly some ideas of things to work on in terms of communication,” said Ken DeSieghardt, CEO of Patron Insight, who presented the results to the district's Communication Committee on Tuesday.

Respondents were asked to name the district's greatest strengths. Reponses were coded from open-ended comments based on common words, phrases or ideas.

The top strengths were community involvement/support (85 responses), teachers (71), quality education (55) and state reputation (34). A large number of the participants responded “don’t know” (60).

The last section of the survey dealt with sources of news about Columbia's public schools.

Results showed that respondents typically favor printed news sources over electronic sources.  They also prefer to get updates about the schools from the district rather than the news media.

About 20 percent said they visit school websites, although 47 percent said they had never visited such a site.

According to the survey, there is no push for Facebook or Twitter communication.

“I thought we were behind the times and needed to move at a faster pace, but the community seems to be interested in the traditional model of communication,” Belcher said. “I’m just glad I don’t have to tweet anytime soon."

DeSieghardt said that these results indicate a need for better communication.

“There is more of a lack of awareness than there is a public concern,” he said.

The survey will be used as a tool for the district to improve upon negative feedback and enhance issues that received positive feedback, said Michelle Baumstark, community relations coordinator.

“We wanted to use it as a tool for use to improve the strategies we use to communicate and how we plan to move forward,” Baumstark said. ”We want to improve our relationship with the community.”

Survey details will be available on Columbia Public School’s website after they are presented to the Columbia School Board at a work session on Jan. 20.

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