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AISD brainstorms ways to increase parent engagement 

Thursday, July 8, 2021 by Hayden Steckel

Austin Independent School District’s annual survey, sent out January through March 2021, was designed to gather feedback from parents and guardians about various topics at their children’s schools. This year’s survey focused on measuring whether parents feel their involvement is welcomed by campus administrators, counselors and teachers. While the large majority of parents who filled out the survey said they did feel welcomed, participation levels in the survey itself were concernedly low. 

Although survey participation went up 9 percent, as a whole AISD failed to meet its overall participation goal of 74 percent, coming in with 67 percent. Elementary schools scored the strongest with 77 percent, while high schools followed at 50 percent and middle schools scored 39 percent. 

Dr. Anthony Mays, chief of school leadership, and Gilbert Hicks, associate superintendent of elementary schools, shared the scorecard results and feedback from the surveys with the AISD Board of Trustees, who discussed ways to garner more parent involvement. 

One notable diagnosis of why the participation goal was not met was that the survey – at 22 questions long with seven having multiple responses – was too long. Trustee LaTisha Anderson said, “You have lost me at maybe question five, maybe 10, because I’m trying to multitask. I’m trying to cook, I’m trying to take care of my kids; I’m trying to do this, I’m trying to do that. So look at some kind of way to get the questions where you still have the important questions but it’s not so many.”

All agreed that shorter, less time-consuming surveys would garner the most involvement. 

The overall worry that parents don’t think the surveys have any impact was another reason why the board thought they fell short. One strategy the board is considering implementing is putting out weekly or biweekly participation rates so principals can better track progress, parents are able to see how many other parents are interacting, and the district can prove to parents that the surveys are being collected and analyzed.  

The board did find it important to point out a number of reasons that may have increased participation. While paper surveys are still proven useful, this year the survey was sent out via Zoom and the school provided WiFi hot spots so parents without access to the internet could participate.

Hicks went on to analyze the strategies used by the elementary schools that may have led to better participation results. Regular digital reminders in parent newsletters, on social media and during virtual PTA meetings were implemented, as well as physical reminders such as posting on school marquees and on paper at arrivals and dismissals. Offering the survey in different languages also improved results, as the involvement of Hispanic parents went up 8 percent from last year.

Mays said that he spoke with the elementary school principals and has set up professional learning communities, or PLCs, to “give those administrators the stage to share how they went about doing it.” Going forward next year, the lessons learned at the elementary schools will be used across the board and a “constant drumbeat” of reminders will be imperative. 

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