It’s rarely easy for a parent to find time on a school night to attend Board of Education meetings and stay up to date on everything that is happening within their school district.
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That’s why some administrations are trying to bring other ways to communicate directly to their community.
Hudson Falls and South Glens Falls Central School Districts have both begun working with a program called Thoughtexchange — an online forum that allows people to share ideas anonymously while also voting on others through a star rating.
The program allows district administrations to pose questions such as “what are we doing well?” or “what could we work on?” to all district stakeholders and receive feedback.
South Glens Falls Superintendent Kristine Orr said the results have been positive and they have already influenced procedures in the district. The first question they posed to the entire community was about what the district can do to support students’ social and emotional well-being at school.
“When I took over one of the first conversations I had with the board was how to be more transparent,” Orr said. “From our participation, it became obvious what we needed to work on with our Social and Emotional Task Force.”
The forum allows participants to remain anonymous, only identifying whether they’re a parent, student or community member, which allows everyone to respond honestly.
Contributors can post their thoughts and then give others a rating from one to five stars. Orr said the rating system is important because it shows officials what people in the community agree on.
Districts can use the program internally as well and Orr said the district has polled students on how the integration of school-wide Chromebooks has gone so far.
Orr said the district has used the software three times so far and will have a fourth-round soon to hear from residents about which direction they want to go with future capital projects.
Hudson Falls Superintendent Linda Goewey said the district has been trying to increase channels for residents to communicate with the district and give feedback on how they are doing.
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Goewey said she understands it’s not easy for parents to get to every meeting, so opening up more options was important to increase parent engagement. She said making the method more convenient by giving access through a computer or phone would allow more people to have their voices heard.
Hudson Falls Assistant Superintendent Lisa Meade said the feedback is useful and can help the administration make decisions.
“Sometimes it validates what we’re thinking, but sometimes it challenges us and what we’re doing,” Meade said.
Geowey said her district is also looking to use the program internally to hear from teachers and students about initiatives within the district and also to gauge interest in electives for students so they have an opportunity to have classes they are already interested in.
Districts have seen pretty widespread participation as well with South Glens Falls first community question having 307 people contribute 276 thoughts and rate more than 6,500 other answers. Hudson Falls had 164 contributors and nearly 1900 ratings.
One of the highest rated responses in the first Hudson Falls survey was about the new tool and one person’s appreciation of a new avenue to reach out.
“This new tool is a great first step in improving communication within the District,” one person said. “When people feel like their opinions and/or concerns are heard, morale increases.”
Orr said the different options have increased participation over older forms of surveys the district has used in the past. She said when people have ways to interact with the ideas already posted it encourages more to give their feedback.
“There were times when, per building, we only got two or three responses on things like Survey Monkey,” Orr said. “We would be happy with double digits and we can see it through the data that we’re getting much more than that.”
The Thoughtexchange platform is not free, but Orr said it does more than just host the conversations and can provide useful data for districts to use. She also said its value is more than worth the cost.
“We value the input of our community,” Orr said. “And so we have to look for any medium to get that input and if we have to pay a cost to get that then we need to do it.”