Tuesday, April 15, 2014

SOE helps Ann Arbor Public Schools “Listen and Learn”

Tags: community engagement, educational leadership and policy

When Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) administrators collected reams of data from more than 80 public meeting sessions last fall, they needed to find out what it all meant. A team from SOE’s Educational Leadership and Policy master’s degree program helped them find out.

AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift began holding the “Listen and Learn” meetings shortly after she began her job last summer, after hearing that communication between AAPS and the community was a major concern of district constituents. Between September and December 2013, meetings were held in each of AAPS’s 34 schools. Comments were collected from parents, students, staff and community members on four central questions:

  • What do we celebrate in our school, and in Ann Arbor Public Schools?
  • What areas need our attention?
  • What do we dream that Ann Arbor Public Schools will be known for in 10 to 15 years?
  • What are the top three priorities you would like to see the superintendent address?

But with more than 110,000 words collected from more than 2,000 people, AAPS needed help to bring meaning to all the data. The task was taken on by Tom Drake, associate director for the Educational Leadership and Policy master’s program, and student Xavier Monroe. “I had never before seen this type of outreach on this scale,” said Drake. “The school district had all the data, but they needed to determine themes from it. So, I designed a template for analysis, and our students did the bulk of categorization.”

Eventually, Drake and Monroe created a report that identified major themes under each of the four questions. For example, under the first question, “celebrations,” the data revealed themes of academic achievement, relationships/environment, outreach/involvement, diversity, quality of personnel, resources, and enrichment activities/curriculum.

The report was presented to the AAPS Board of Education earlier this year. But that’s not the end of it.

In a presentation to SOE faculty, staff and students on April 2, Swift said the report will help the district refine its strategic plan, and the findings also will influence a series of “next steps,” including formation of assessment and advisory boards, and recommendations to the school board to create several new school programs in 2014-15. “People should understand that Listen and Learn wasn’t just a tour, it was a beginning,” said Swift.< p> Drake said working on the project dovetailed perfectly with his program’s goals. “We help students put theory into practice,” he said. “But ultimately, we’re working to serve the educational community.”

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