Monday, Feb 06th

Surveys and Forums Yield Unexpected Insights Into Community Views on the Schools

SearchThe results of community wide survey, forums and focus groups to identify the ideal characteristics of the district’s next superintendent formed a profile for the district’s next leader but also revealed surprising information about stakeholders perceptions of the Scarsdale Schools. Similar to an incidental finding of a medical test, the data shows what parents, students, faculty and staff desire for the next schools’ superintendent but also pointed out some perceived issues with the district today.

Deborah Raizes and Susan Guiney, from the search firm Hazard Young Attea Associates presented their report at the October 3 meeting of the Scarsdale School Board. Introducing the two, Board Vice President Ron Schulhof explained that this data will be explored. He said, “The survey data provides valuable feedback and insight for the Board and Administration into the views of each stakeholder group. While tonight we will discuss this information in relation to the Leadership Profile, this data is now available for the Board and administration to consider in relation to goals, priorities, and planning as part of future discussions.”

Raizes and Guiney were pleased with the input from the community saying it was the “largest (study) they had ever done.” In total 1,432 took the online survey and 252 participated in personal interviews, focus groups and forums.

The list of “desired characteristics” of the next superintendent are as much a wish list for a future leader as a reflection on the recent crisis experienced by the community under the eight year tenure of former Superintendent Thomas Hagerman.

According to the report, the community is looking for transparency, visibility, communication and trust building, all shown to be lacking in the survey. In fact, according to Raizes, some even asked that the new Superintendent “should know them by their name.”

Raizes unveiled the following list of qualities, saying, “This will be our marching orders as we look for the next superintendent.” These were determined by asking respondents to weight the importance of a list of leadership qualities. The outcome is shown below:

(From the report)

Desired Characteristics
The Scarsdale Union Free School District Board of Education seeks a strong educational leader who:

● Appreciates the culture of the Scarsdale Public Schools and rebuilds trust
● Engages the school community with excellent interpersonal skills
● Inspires others as a transformational leader
● Is a stellar communicator who is an active listener, makes people feel included,
respected, and is a confident and competent public speaker
● Is an innovative and creative academic visionary
● Is visible, approachable, accessible, and enjoys engaging with students, parents, faculty,
administrators and staff.

In addition to forming a leadership profile, respondents provided insight into what they believe are the strengths of the district. Summarizing these results, across all groups, here’s what emerged as consistent themes of the perceived strengths of the Scarsdale Schools:

● Academic excellence
● Ample resources for innovations in learning and to support educational excellence
● Commitment to professional learning and growth
   -Scarsdale Teachers Institute (STI)
● Excellent faculty, administrators and staff who are caring and dedicated
● Parents are involved, committed and dedicated to the education of their children
● Students who think “it’s cool” to learn
● The business of Scarsdale is the schools - education is the heart of the community

However, the survey also highlighted issues and concerns around articulating a long term vision, diversity equity and inclusion, open communication, alignment of curriculum and values across grades and schools and a lack of trust.

Diving deeper into the data, the report details differences in the views of key stakeholder groups. The most telling can be seen on page 13 of the report where the views of each stakeholder group are graphed, illustrating a divergence of views among the administration faculty and staff from those of community members and students. You can read the 41 page report here:

For example, responses to a question about vision and values, only 40%-45% of community members with and without children in the schools as well as students believed that the district has “a clear and compelling vision for the future, alignment of programs to the broader vision and upholds high expectation for all stakeholders.” However, among faculty, support staff and the administration, the responses ranged affirmatively, from 75% - 90%.

To a question about community engagement, only 30%-40% of community members with and without children in the schools as well as students agreed that the community was engaged as a partner, that communication was transparent and that the district engages with diverse groups. The response to that question from faculty, support staff and the administration on community engagement was about 65%.

So clearly, the district has work to do on both addressing and correcting issues and perceptions as they also engage in the search for new leadership. Both Board VP Ron Schulhof and Interim Superintendent Drew Patrick acknowledged that the data will be studied. Patrick said, “Aside from the superintendent search, there is rich and deep information about our learning community. We will take a look and see how this information can inform the work of the district.”

Board of Ed member Jim Dugan asked Raizes and Guiney, “Did any of the results surprise you?” Raizes replied, “I was surprised by the rebuilding of trust – how much it was discussed, how much is it needed. Visibility was also important. Those two fit together with a good communicator. The angst that we heard was quite compelling.”

Guiney echoed some comments she heard …. “The outpouring of love for the community and the school district and pride in the schools … People returning to Scarsdale. Students are engaged in learning and want to be here – and want to be a part of the process. High schoolers want to share their ideas and have a hand in the process.”

During public comments, a few community members offered thoughts on the search.

Diana Cohen of Duck Pond Road asked the district to search for a leader with a vision. She said, “When people are asked why they moved to Scarsdale, “They don’t say the commute to the city is great and they have a honest superintendent. That should be a given. We need someone who can set the vision and bring everyone along with them. If your boyfriend cheats on you – you don’t pick the next boyfriend just because he doesn’t cheat. We need to think about the long term.”

Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez from Fox Meadow Road said, “Thanks to everyone involved. There is a tremendous amount of useful information in the appendices. Will these numbers be fleshed out? There are big differences in how teachers and administrators responded vs. parents and students. Is there a plan to hash this out? Will you address areas of discontent? How will the Board follow up with the administration?”

Jennifer Zola of Carstensan Road thanked the Board for the survey. About the forum she attended she said, “There was a lot of heartfelt emotion in the room.” She continued, “On page 14 of the study it lists the top four priorities of each group. The faculty input should be weighted as they know the school inside out. Most of the dots did align.”

Detailing the next steps in the process, Board President Amber Yusuf said the board will meet with the consultants again on October 24 and in November as they prepare for multiple interviews in December. The Board will continue to send out Superintendent search updates as appropriate.

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