Report — Group gives Newberg schools a ?baseline for how parents, staff perceive district

Nearly 900 parents and staff participated in surveys about Newberg public schools in April, sharing their opinion on a variety of topics, from academics and responsiveness to school climate and communication.

The separate surveys for parents and staff were conducted by the National Center for School Leadership (NCSL), which compares the responses from the 514 local parents and 346 Newberg district staff with national averages.

In each survey, the top 10 questions or survey items receiving the most favorable responses are compared with the top 10 nationally and those not appearing on the national list are considered “significant strengths.”

Newberg’s significant strengths were in response to “I attend most school events (conferences and open houses),” which drew a favorable response from 87 percent of survey takers, and “School makes effective use of technology to communicate,” which re­ceived 78 percent favorable.

The survey also identified eight “real strengths,” or items that received a score of 75 percent favorable or higher, including a 97 percent rate to “I believe that parent/ guardian involvement is positively related to a child’s achievement.”

Newberg’s real strengths also included “School facilities are well-maintained” at 87 percent, “I am kept up-to-date on school activities/ events” at 85, “I know how to get information when I need it” at 84 and “The school encourages students to be responsible” at 83 percent.

The four responses that drew the highest percentage of unfavorable responses, which the NCSL labels as “opportunities,” were in the areas of monitoring student progress and academics. Specifically, 33 percent of parents responded unfavorably to “I regularly check my child’s grades/attendance online,” 30 percent to “School challenges my child to full potential,” 28 percent to “I am regularly informed of child’s academic prog­ress,” and 26 percent to “My child’s school offer opportunities to explore interests outside the core content areas.”

Similar to how the NCSL identified significant strengths, regularly checking a child’s grades/attendance online and challenging children to their full potential were labeled as areas for immediate improvement because they did not appear on the top 10 unfavorable responses nationally.

District spokeswoman Claudia Stewart noted that only parents of secondary students have the ability to check grades online because currently elementary schools do not have online grading, which may have swayed the results considering about half of its students are elementary-school aged.

“That’s something that we are already working on,” Stewart said. “If you’re an elementary parent, all you do is check your child’s attendance. That’s it. But if you’re a parent of a secondary student, you’re able to see missing work, incomplete assignments, grades and test scores, those types of things.”

The district did encounter a problem with its new online parent and student grade/attendance portals, as some parents were unable to check their students’ grades for about six weeks. That was caused by the school’s new student information software, Synergy, and all other schools in the state that use that particular software also experienced the same problem.

“It seemed to be tied to teachers who were tying their grading to specific standards,” Stewart said. “The system was not reporting that data, so it came up basically empty and you couldn’t see what grades you were getting. That since has been fixed.”

In response to challenging students, Stewart pointed to the district’s strategic plan, where the first priority listed is to “provide a high quality well-rounded and healthy educational experience to all students that is engaging, rigorous and culturally relevant.”

“I would say we do believe school should be challenging and engaging for all students,” Stewart said. “We’re certainly well aware of that and it’s a priority to address.”

In the school climate and staff survey taken by district staff, Newberg’s significant strengths came in response to “Teachers at my school have positive relationships with most parents,” “I would recommend my school/district to a family member seeking a school for their children” and “My school/department is well regarded in the community.”

Among the areas considered for immediate improvement (scores of 30 percent or more unfavorable) were the level of parent volunteering, time for collaborating with peers, the amount of workload and the level and relevance of professional development opportunities.

Stewart pointed out that two of the district’s recent hires, Stafford Boyd as director of secondary teaching and learning and Luke Neff as director of instructional technology, will help improve professional development in the district.

Stewart also reported that the Newberg school board was quite interested in the findings of the survey and that each school addresses their weaknesses annually through their site improvement plans.

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