For many, complaining comes much more naturally than extending praise. Parkrose School District parents, students and neighborhood folk always have the opportunity to criticize anything and everything about Parkrose schools to Parkrose School District Superintendent, Karen Fischer Gray. Yet the school board was curious to locate some greener grass through community participation.
“People can email me with complaints whenever,” Gray says. “This specific Appreciative Inquiry is about what we’re doing right.”
The Appreciative Survey, formally known as the Building on our Strengths Survey, was open to the public on Survey Monkey from October 2016 through May of this year. It allowed just about anybody to offer a particular type of insight: admiration for Parkrose’s schools. On Wednesday, May 24, the long-awaited results were shared among Parkrose School Board members in a private meeting. As one might expect, most of the results were positive.
The study provided 14 questions; some were statistical, while others were qualitative. Overall, 612 locals chimed in on at least some of the survey questions. The comprehensive results were administered by an outfit from University of Portland who were partnered with the Parkrose School District in distributing and analyzing the survey.
When looking at the survey’s content, questions were initially demographic-focused. Most respondents were White (70 percent) while only 12 percent were Black. A clear majority—66 percent—of respondents identified as female, and none labeled themselves transgender.
Additionally, 90 percent of respondents spoke English as a first language at home while 17 percent also spoke Spanish. Most survey respondents (45 percent) were currently parents of Parkrose students, and 23 percent were Parkrose students. Most people have lived in Parkrose for between five and 10 years (30 percent).
Then there was the meat of the survey. Four open-ended survey questions asked respondents to break down the district’s success more specifically. The first question, which was split into two mini-questions, asked respondents to note the things that benefited their personal learning experience during their early years of Parkrose education and suggest what might be beneficial to students today. This was succeeded by two open-ended questions asking respondents to note what they value most about Parkrose schools and when they feel most valued as parents or students.
The fourth and final open-ended survey question was far more abstract than its predecessors. It asked respondents to list the first word that pops into their mind when they consider things they appreciate about the Parkrose School District.
The 228 responses to the first open-ended question were broken down into four themes: relationships, teaching strategies and skill attainment, learning models and materials, and lastly, effective skills. Respondents believed teachers truly capable of creating meaningful dialogues with students and believed that project-based learning experiences—such as teaching history by assigning kids colonial personas or by having kids “design” the Great Pyramids—were especially beneficial.
Other activities with community backers included skill-based courses, such as vehicle maintenance or cooking, and small class sizes. Extra attention given to non-native English speakers was also noted in several instances, and a particularly “affective skill” was defined as teacher enthusiasm. Kids enjoyed a heightened feeling of success.
The next two value-oriented open-ended questions drew 213 and 211 responses, respectively, both with a slightly smaller turnout than the first open-ended question.
For when and how Parkrose community members feel valued, there were three marked themes: participating in service; communication from the school, the district or teachers; and events. Parents noted that they liked taking charge in specific programs, like participating in SMART at Prescott (Start Making a Reader Today) or by chaperoning school field trips.
Additionally, parents seem to appreciate the Parkrose School District’s abundant outreach efforts.
“I’m happy people like our newsletter,” Gray explains at the meeting. “Mary Lu [Baetkey, a longtime Parkrose teacher and board member] had the idea to have kids’ faces on there; that has been wonderful.”
Per usual, communication is key; parents like identifying the school board meeting schedule and attendant agendas and prefer an open-door policy where their input is encouraged. The community also appears fond of school events like movie nights and sporting events.
Parents also remarked on their satisfaction with seeing student accomplishments outlined in the local media.
(You’re welcome, Parkrose parents.)
When respondents described when and how they personally felt valued, there was an even heftier plethora of answers. The four themes here were programs, equity, facilities/safety and personal treatment.
For the most part, everybody is more of a good sport when they feel like more of a team player. The neighborhood loves being involved with things like sporting events, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, a Multnomah County program), special education and Black family night. Gray noted that Sacramento Elementary is planning on adding an outdoor class, which she believes will make a splash with respondents.
In terms of equity, responses mirrored shifting neighborhood demographics. Parents commended an ACLU night devoted to immigration, and one student wrote in, “I feel valued when I see people representing me who look like me.”
Some logistical shifts in school policy have made everybody feel safer, almost universally.
“The kids are less prepared to ditch if they have to buzz to get back into school,” remarks Gray, hinting at more changes to come. “But currently anybody could walk into the high school. There are swaths of the community that aren’t safe for the community.”
Then there was perhaps the simplest—and the most difficult—question presented. About 200 people provided a word, idea or memory that best characterized something they appreciated about Parkrose schools. Diversity was the most commonly cited word, as it was mentioned thirteen times, while community was written twelve times.
Humorously, a few sources wrote in “chest,” which the faculty presumed to have meant “chess,” referring to the chess club.
Overall, school board members were satisfied with the data provided.
“I see us walking way with reconstructing a more advantageous advisory group for the superintendent,” suggests Baetkey.
Even with all the positive reinforcement, respondents could make recommendations at the end of the survey. They expressed a rainbow of ideas, suggesting the district focus more on students’ individual education as opposed to meeting academic standards, as well as the possibility of ethnic studies courses to diversify the canon.
The next course of action regarding this specific assessment will see the Parkrose School Board produce a final report along with a draft action plan at a meeting on June 26.