SNOW HILL — Returns from the Worcester County Board of Education’s 9th Annual Communications Survey show that parents who participated find many aspects of the school to be excellent.
Survey participation saw a significant drop this year. Officials are blaming the dip on a variety of factors but particularly a scheduling and technology change in the survey and hope to see participation start to buoy up next year.
“We were in a transitional year this year and you will see a decrease in participation,” said Barb Witherow, coordinator of public relations and special programs. “I just wanted to say to [the board, upfront, that I’m not concerned about it. I know that we will be back up. We distributed the survey the latest that we ever have because we were transitioning to online and also using new software.”
The survey was made available over the final two weeks in May. This was the first year that parents were able to complete the Communications Survey online and the numbers show that most preferred to stick with the traditional pencil and paper. About 83 percent of participants filled out and mailed the survey by hand, though Witherow anticipated that the more familiar people become with the digital survey the more likely they are to use it.
For those who did choose to participate in the survey, the results were generally strong. Categories such as school communications, school system communications, parent involvement and the school system website each received an overall favorability rating of 95 percent or above. The student handbook and calendar was the most favored communications source, receiving any atypically high 99-percent favorability rating.
There were six survey items that were rated at “excellent,” the highest score, by at least 50 percent of participants including the closings and delayed openings hotline at 57 percent, school’s front office at 55 percent, school messenger notification system at 54 percent, communication with child’s teacher at 53 percent and student handbook and calendar at 52 percent.
Internet availability after school continues to rise with 96 percent of survey takers reporting that the web is available at their home. This is a slight rise from 2013 when 93 percent indicated availability.
The results are encouraging but it is worth noting that participation is down to 1,738 or 26.3 percent of survey recipients. This is a 19-percent drop from last year and a roughly 29-percent drop from the survey’s peak return year of 2010.
As stated, Witherow hopes the numbers will begin to even out in the years ahead. One goal for 2015 will be to make the survey available earlier in the school year to encourage further participation. As people adjust to the idea of being able to fill out the form online, Witherow expects to see ongoing digital gains as well which should eat up the existing participation gap.
Board of Education member Johnathon Cook also expects to see input rise moving forward but reminded the board that even 26.3 percent is a reasonable return when dealing with educational surveys.
“We’ve had such a great response rate in the past … but I still think that this response is great for the survey world,” he said.
Some additional goals moving forward will be to “strengthen social media and the school system website as key communication tools,” while encouraging digital participation with the online survey. Witherow also has made it a priority to increase opportunities for school information to be delivered via text, something which parents rated as number one in regards to alternative tools. A school system mobile app also showed 83-percent favorability.
With the emphasis on technology over the next few years Witherow put to bed any fears that that traditional crowd would be left in the dust. The plan right now is to continue to make the survey available as a hardcopy along with the digital.