KISD community wants education options, accountability

Posted Monday, Jul. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Keller school district parents and staff members see the need for more career and technical training for students, want improved communication from officials, and stress the importance of financial efficiency, according to a recent community survey.

During the first two weeks of May, almost 3,700 people responded to an online questionnaire conducted by K12 Insight, an educational consulting firm that specializes in improving communications between district leaders and stakeholders.

"The results were pretty positive," Board President Jim Stitt said. "I would like to see some areas improved, and I think we're all going to be taking it seriously and focusing on improving."

The survey told respondents that the State of Texas is considering a new A through F grading system for schools and asked participants to grade Keller ISD. About 45 percent gave the district a "B" and 36 percent gave it an "A."

Stitt said he saw it as a positive that most parents and employees gave the district an A or B, but several themes emerged in opportunities for improvement.

District leaders agree with the community consensus that high school students do not have enough career and technical education options.

"They say we're doing a good job preparing students for college, but not everyone is going to college," Stitt said.

Superintendent Randy Reid said career and technical classes can help many students, college bound or not, figure out if they're interested in pursuing a career. Keller has not had the variety of technical and vocational courses of many surrounding districts, a deficit Reid said he noted when he came to Keller last summer.

"Not a lot of emphasis has been placed on these areas in the last few years," Reid said.

With the passage of House Bill 5, students will have more freedom in their course selections to pursue career and technical interests while on a pathway to graduation. Students can earn diplomas with one of several different emphases, including science, math and engineering, business or arts and humanities.

District officials may seek community input on a separate career and technical education facility that would serve students from all four high schools, Reid said.

Communication challenges

Another concern of participants was a desire for more communication from district leaders. A big obstacle is the new diversity in technology.

"There are so many vehicles people use for information," Reid said. "We've gone from not enough ways to get communication out there to too many now. If we don't hit one, some people will miss the information."

Stitt said that Reid's monthly Brown Bag Lunches -- informal question-answer sessions with residents -- and the board's new Community Ambassador program are steps in the right direction.

Reid said that virtual communication, while important, is not as valuable as face-to-face encounters.

"No matter how good you get, you're always going to miss something if you can't meet face to face," he said.

With a large school district such as Keller, sometimes in-person interaction isn't feasible, but district and campus leaders can be more visible in the community. Being available and focusing on serving constituents promotes interest and understanding in other forms of communication, he said.

Follow the dollar

The survey showed that community members want the district to be more transparent about funding and spending. While some respondents said the district needed more revenue, others objected to raising taxes.

Reid said that Keller has earned numerous awards for financial efficiency and transparency, but "not everyone feels that way."

Officials need to do a better job of educating the public on the history of how the board has practiced financial stewardship and how efficient the administration team has been in light of Keller receiving below average per-student funding from the state, Reid said.

Stitt said, "Financially, we're as transparent as we can be."

Future surveys

This was the first communitywide survey from K12 Insight. Earlier this spring, trustees approved a contract with the consulting firm to conduct a variety of surveys to find ways to strengthen the district.

Reid said K12 Insight also performed campus-specific surveys of parents and will soon canvass new employees on how well the district prepared them and ask teachers to assess professional development programs.

One area of focus that has not received enough attention in recent years is in seeking input from students, Reid said.

"We want to have a lot more structured opportunities to sit down and talk to our kids," he said. "We're not regularly hearing student voices. If we don't get them to help us make some decisions, then we're missing the boat."

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