From the Director: What We Said About What We Do

A summary of results from the 2018-2019 Annual Parent Survey.
Keeping a promise here to share results from last summer’s version of the Annual Parent Survey, an instrument now nearly two decades old. In late June each year the link goes out, with the dust of an academic year pretty well settled. Two or three reminders later, we typically have a few hundred responses and I dutifully tally up the data. The salient details and broader messages this time strike me as follows:
More stayed the same than changed. And this is no bad thing, it’s just what happened. The total number of completed surveys stayed in the low 300’s, remarkably consistent with precedent in recent years, maybe 10% higher than what we saw a decade or so ago and representing maybe 40% of USN households—a respectable quotient. Getting to the central prompts, to the core rating questions that have formed the basis of the survey in exactly the same way from its first iteration, there’s further similarity to what we’ve seen all along. Specifically, about two-thirds of respondents were “particularly pleased” with the educational experience the year, and a slightly higher percentage rated the quality of teaching in that top “pleased” category. Fewer than 1% called themselves “dissatisfied.” Not a surprise, but still very good to see.
Such was also the case with prompts on communication from teachers and with admin offices, where more than half chose “particularly pleased” and about a third clocked in as “generally satisfied,” continuing an incrementally increasing trend. Same when we asked about opportunities to volunteer and to engage in discussion here. Not sure how to move those numbers yet higher, but we’ll keep focusing on doing our best and continue to ask these same important questions year by year. It does seem that one gets what one measures.
Moving to the open-ended questions, suffice to say it’s evidently helpful to offer both an unbounded opportunity to highlight great work and ask to where we could get better. One of my favorite dimensions of reading the entries, some of which exceed 500 words, is that what delighted one family was the source of great frustration for another. Past that though, being given the chance to share your compliments (without attribution) with colleagues is wonderful, and being able to review concerns with relevant admin team members is enormously useful. And every single expressed concern deserves attention.
On the “our key strengths” question, once more the most frequent responses centered on a culture celebrating academics, fine teachers, individual attention, and the inclusion of many voices, but really the replies ranged widely, presenting quite a balance of perspectives in the aggregate. The Goldilocks-type tuition question resulted in 80%+ saying the increase was about right, and slightly more of the remaining sentiment commenting that it was too high than those who said it was too low. Yes, there were indeed 18 responses saying we should have raised tuition more. Mostly I appreciate so many people acknowledging that the whole topic is layered and complex.
And when it came to “the most important challenges facing the school,” I’d say that the runaway consensus— “finding and keeping great teachers,” in addition to “supporting academic excellence,” seems right on target. You might be surprised to learn that “upgrading facilities” lagged furthest behind, back there with “improving extracurriculars” and “limiting tuition increases.” Not that they aren’t all important, but that was the ordinality of the responses.
Finally, and maybe most audibly so far this year, came the homework question—the one that occupied the special topic position alongside prompts that remain unchanged for comparison purposes year by year. The answer choices ranged from more to less to optional to let the school sort it out, also included keeping it about the same, and as is often the case with that kind of prompt, the status quo won out, polling at about 50%, followed by 25% asking us here to make the call. Of the remaining 25%, maybe half that total was OK with us ramping up the workload, fewer than 10% asking for no work to be sent home at all, and an unconvinced 3% liking the unfamiliar optional idea. What I glean from these sentiments is that we should walk this topic carefully, thoughtfully, understanding that there’s no great hue and cry for wholesale change.
So that’s it in brief. Thanks to the many, many of you who weighed in (probably a high correlation with those who actually choose to read these newsletter columns). If there’s more you wanted to say, please let me (or whomever you think is the best set of ears) know. Really—conversation over coffee makes my day. This whole exercise should be as much the start of something as it is the end of something.
Taking it all to heart,
    • Director Vince Durnan addresses the Class of 2020 during Senior Induction in August.

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