• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

IC school board approves online survey tool for gathering feedback

Directors hope Thoughtexchange will reach larger population than listening posts, meetings

IOWA CITY– The Iowa City Community School District will begin using a new tool to gather community feedback. The online tool, Thoughtexchange, acts as a survey with added features, such as a Star feature allowing respondents to “star,” or prioritize, the thoughts most meaningful to them.
The Board of Directors voted at its Nov. 24 meeting to approve the tool for a 3-year contract, not to exceed $107,000. The vote passed 4-3, with directors LaTasha DeLoach, Lori Roetlin, Board Vice President Brian Kirschling and Board President Chris Lynch voting in favor, and directors Christopher Liebig, Tom Yates and Phil Hemingway voting against.
During the board meeting, Liebig asked to clarify the purpose of the tool—whether to “take the temperature of the community” or to answer specific questions.
“We looked at it as an area where the board or the administration could go to get input from a broader spectrum of people on different topics,” said Chace Ramey, Chief Community Affairs and Human Resources Officer.
The 3-year contract approved by the board allows for two district-wide Thoughtexchange processes per year, and one Thoughtexchange process specifically for staff. These surveys could be used to gather input on topics such as bell schedules, the possibility of a magnet school or the closure of Hoover Elementary, for example. “You name it,” Lynch said.
When students are registered for school, the district asks families to self-report whether they have Internet access in their homes. According to the most recent data, 91 percent of district homes have Internet access. However, as DeLoach pointed out, that percentage may not be accurate. Some families may have lost Internet access, or access to a reliable device, since registration. Their Internet service also may not be consistent or convenient.
“Does that mean it’s in their home on their computer, up-to-date—or just on their cell phones?” DeLoach asked.
Roetlin said in addition to making Thoughtexchange available on school computers, directors could also set up laptops at listening posts in Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County or other accessible locations for parents who wanted to stop in and take the survey, making it easier fore them to participate.
The board’s Advocacy and Engagement Committee discussed Thoughtexchange in its latest meeting. That committee consists of Kirschling, Roetlin, and DeLoach, all of whom voted in favor of the tool.
“All three of us agreed that we should have a digital platform to supplement, not supplant, community engagement,” Kirschling said. “In fact, if anything, we’d like to increase community engagement face-to-face, person-to-person.”
Kirschling spoke with superintendents and school board members in other Iowa school districts to learn about community feedback tools, and learned that Clinton Community School District began to use Thoughtexchange and received great community response. Cedar Rapids and Waterloo Community School Districts have both used various digital platforms, and were intrigued to hear about Thoughtexchange in their conversation, he added.
According to the Clinton Community School District website, 413 people offered 655 thoughts in the first Thoughtexchange survey. The survey asked three general questions: what are some concerns you have about our school this year; what are some things you appreciate most about our school this year; and what are some other things you would like to say about our school this year?
Participants were given the space to “free text” their responses, and could also star certain responses to mark them as more meaningful to them.
After a two-month period of online community access to the Thoughtexchange survey, Thoughtexchange organized the results and presented data to the Clinton school district. Results were organized by stars to show the highly-prioritized issues first, the number of people who assigned an issue one or more stars, and the average number of stars shown. From the compiled data, Clinton schools were able to identify which issues their community was largely pleased with, which areas needed improvement, and how strongly participants felt about each issue.
Kirschling said when he spoke to Clinton’s superintendent, she said the district previously heard from 20-25 people at engagement meetings and listening posts, so receiving 413 responses from their first round of Thoughtexchange made the tool a huge success.
Thoughtexchange may not be perfect, Kirschling said, but it is a “huge step up” from what the district currently uses.