Effective Educators Seek Feedback

The following column appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during late April and early May, 2024


Effective educators seek feedback

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over 50-plus years of working with students, families and educators: The most effective schools periodically seek feedback from the people they serve. Asking questions, and using the answers, helps improve what a school, or any organization, is doing.

Before turning to schools, here’s a quick example from the Center for School Change, where I work. We decided to ask young people to write about their experiences with various forms of dual-credit programs, in which high school students earn free college credit.

We surveyed more than 100 students to ask what information they would like to see in a student-written publication. We also asked if there was anything else they wanted to tell us about sharing information with students.

Several students suggested that we also produce YouTube videos about dual credit. As one wrote, “YouTube is where it’s at for many of us.” Feedback revealed something we had not considered. So, we followed students’ advice and produced not only a publication but also videos.

Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools

Jim Skelly, Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools’ executive director of communication and public relations, explained:

“Survey data is considered an important part of decision making in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. Surveys can include representative samples of community member and parents from across the district or be as focused on students at a particular grade level. Here are a few items for your consideration.

“Examples of how the district uses survey data:

  • Minnesota Student Survey trends from years ago illustrated that 9th grade transitions, especially for girls, were particularly difficult. As a result, the district added an annual 9th grade transition survey to monitor perceptions on a more regular basis and identify areas of concern for student groups on which to focus.
  • Anoka-Hennepin Student Engagement Survey served to identify that students of Hispanic descent and those identifying with two or more racial/ethnic groups demonstrated lower engagement than their peers, in past years, spurring specific actions at especially the high school level, where results were more significantly discrepant.
  • Survey results indicate that in recent years, the engagement of different student groups is becoming much more similar.
  • Annually, survey reports are reviewed by district and building leadership teams and incorporated into school improvement plans and informs district strategic priorities.

“Other examples of how past community survey data has been used:

  • Determine tax tolerance and potential voter interest in supporting referendum requests.
  • Measure awareness of anti-bullying communication and approaches to ensure safe schools.
  • Test parent acceptance of breaks, start and end times in the school calendar.

“Examples of Surveys:

  • “Open enrollment community survey, conducted by Morris Leatherman (March 2023): Asked parents who open enroll into the district and out of the district why they made that choice.

“Action steps:

  • Add transportation for students within one-mile of the school to boost enrollment.
  • Public information campaign to neighborhoods surrounding Evergreen Park Elementary with the goal of growing and stabilizing enrollment.
  • Began focus on communication with preschool families to encourage resident families to choose Anoka-Hennepin Schools. Feedback demonstrated families choose schools prior to kindergarten.
  • Enrollment exceeded projections by minimum of 12 students by October 2023.
  • “Annual survey of residents, Morris Leatherman (June 2023): This is a scientifically valid survey of district residents from representative portions of the district to monitor satisfaction with services, determine trend or concerns and measure impact of district services such as communication.

“Action steps:

  • In 2023, the survey included questions about the district’s ‘Play-up’ policy for middle school athletes. See the information below more information.
  • The survey measures areas of concern such as class size, educational options, safety, etc. that inform action in those areas.
  • Communication feedback is used to maintain a robust print newsletter program for the community while increasing email communication based on audience preference.

“Survey results: Anoka-Hennepin’s Research, Evaluation and Testing department posts reports and results from surveys on their website. Examples of surveys conducted include the anti-bullying survey, student engagement and employee engagement and culture.

“The results of the 2023 Community Survey were presented to the School Board in September, and that video is posted on the district’s website  (at 42 minutes). This process is supported annually by the School Board. The 2023 survey included questions about middle school student participation in high school athletics.”

PACT Charter School in Ramsey

Josh Nyquist, PACT’s chief executive director, wrote: “We did surveys of our parents, students and staff in 2021 before determining whether or not we would expand our school. PACT built a new secondary campus that opened this last Fall. These surveys were helpful in determining not only the desire on the part of our families for a larger school but also the programming that would go into our new campus.” He also sent a link to information on the Ramsey school’s website regarding is recent expansion. information on the Ramsey school’s website regarding its recent expansion.


Superintendent Nate Rudolph wrote: “In Cambridge-Isanti Schools, we survey families every two years in Spring. Our 2022 Family Survey questions are here. The summary and a link to the full report is here.  Our 2024 survey will launch within the month.

“We participate in the Minnesota Student Survey every three years. Please contact MDE for student survey questions. The 2022 Minnesota Student Survey identified mental health as a key priority for our schools, cities and county, resulting in Student and Staff Mental Health and Well-being becoming one of four priority strategies in our Strategic Plan.

“As you will see in our Strategic Plan, we value our partnership with families and our community. We are actively working to engage families in areas of the district that align with their interests and expertise. We believe our schools are owned by the community, and we need their active partnership. In your column, we hope that you will encourage families to complete our surveys, as they provide important quantitative data, in addition to ongoing feedback we collect through our website, qualitative research, and community engagement meetings. Schools can’t do the important work of preparing children for the future alone. We need the active partnership of families and communities.

Forest Lake Area Schools

Steve Massey, Forest Lake Area Schools superintendent, responded: “The last two years, we have conducted a survey of our families to gather input on their experience in FLAS. … Our families continue to provide good feedback on communication, both the method and frequency. We have made changes in the delivery of district and school messages by adding text messages and more electronic messaging. Interestingly, our families continue to stress the importance of making sure their kids are challenged. This has resulted in more communication with families explaining that the amount of homework students are asked to complete is not necessarily related to the level of rigor or challenge their student(s) have in school. There is a shifting of the value and meaning of homework and there is an ongoing need to communicate the shift from what the parents might have experienced when they were in school and how we are engaging students in learning today.”

Minnetonka Public Schools

Superintendent David Law wrote: “The Minnetonka School District surveys parents annually to determine their level of satisfaction and identify areas for improvement. After a slight uptick in concerns about bullying, the Board included a ramp up of Bullying Prevention efforts in the annual School Board Goals. This is one example of how the board pays attention to community feedback.

“Our community has provided very positive feedback about our experiential learning programs ‘Vantage’ and ‘Momentum.’ These programs provide students the opportunity to embed themselves in ‘strands’ like International Business, Construction, Transportation, Public Policy. With this feedback, the Board has set a goal to expand these opportunities.

“These are two examples of how our Board has used community input to steer our continuous improvements.”

The 2023 survey and results are found on page 20 of this board meeting minutes.


Carissa Keister, Stillwater Area Public Schools’ chief of staff/executive director of communications, told me: “We just did extensive focus group work with staff, students and families to help inform the creation of our new strategic plan. This document summarizes what we learned (Desired Daily Experiences) and also outlines how we used that feedback to develop our strategic plan.” Here’s a link to their strategic plan.

New Heights School in Stillwater

Thomas Kearney, the superintendent/principal at New Heights School, a charter public school in Stillwater, told me: “We tend to send out 3 (surveys) per year. We do what we call a ‘Needs Assessment,’ which basically checks in with students about several topics, including things like self and home, mental/emotional health, school, peer relationships, future etc. In those surveys, we could gather some important info that could help us refine culture. We are currently really trying to focus on culture and safety.

“Another survey we gave last year and will again this year is an end of year reflection. In that survey our students told us they wanted more field trips, Fun Friday once per quarter and to reinstall a Student Council, which we did all 3 in response.

“Finally we will give a parent/guardian end of year survey, which is a lot about satisfaction. In all honesty, we tend to get very favorable responses. Maybe parents who support our efforts respond at a higher rate. We don’t get too much negative feedback.

“We do spend a lot of time each year asking ourselves … ‘What do we really want to ask?’ We revisit every question further asking, ‘What will we do with the answers we get?’ We are very careful to consider the ramifications of gathering the information and not reacting appropriately to it … or over-reacting.”

Schools can follow every suggestion received for many reasons including the facts that they must set priorities, some suggestions are contradictory, and some recommendations may not recognize state or federal laws that public schools must follow.

However, as the examples above show, it’s desirable and doable to gather and use information from families, students and the general public.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., is co-director of the Center for School Change. He formerly was a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator, and PTA president. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org.