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Summer Survey Results Help Guide OCS Efforts

There’s no perfect way to understand how we’re viewed by the families we serve. Last June OCS asked 740 households to respond to a survey that asked some basic questions about how well the school system was doing with the children entrusted to our care. Research shows that surveys can be reliable tools of communication. It’s one way of getting broader feedback on basic topics. The best surveys that provide the most reliable means of evaluation are short and conducted each year so that trend lines can be developed. A survey is only one form of accountability, but they provide everyone with the opportunity to participate. If you didn’t receive a survey, or you know of a family that doesn’t receive the weekly “In the Loop” newsletter, please call the OCS Central Office with an email address.

Nine questions comprised the entire survey and each participant was asked to provide a grade on a scale of 1-5 for each question. Some participants wanted the survey broken down by school, but the system tries to move students through different levels of maturity in each building, which could impact responses. The purpose of the survey was to provide input for a system, and one school is just one part of a system. Trying to provide too much written direction, or trying to accomplish too much with a survey deters participation.

First, there’s the good news. Research firms (The Pew Research Center validated data again in 2018) have learned that unhappy people are much more likely to fill out surveys. Whether it’s that unsatisfactory Amazon purchase or the poor service you received at the restaurant, we are all more likely to fill out a survey when we’re dissatisfied. So, most of the 540 OCS families who didn’t fill out a survey have a measure of contentment or good feeling about the work of Owensboro Catholic Schools. In addition, of the 201 surveys returned, over 70% gave Catholic schools above-average marks in each category (3.5 cumulative or higher). It was another affirming takeaway for the work being done by the school community. On the other side of the scale, there were 32 surveys who believed that Owensboro Catholic Schools (below 3.0 cumulative) was doing a poor job of educating children. 25 surveys provided average scores of 3.0 to 3.5.

While any survey over a broad range of people will bring a variety of suggestions, contradictions, and issues, many also identified consistent challenges faced by users of the system. Challenges were grouped by category. Other comments were outliers and reflected the experience their child had in the classroom for the year surveyed. The widest range of opinions focused on the issue of discipline, and schools either ranked very high or very low (3.53). There was no middle ground on the issue of discipline!  

Many surveys identified the challenges that exist within the Owensboro Catholic School System. Some of these challenges are being addressed on some scale, but others would directly impact the amount of tuition charged to a family. Currently, every Catholic school-educated child is subsidized by about $3,600 per child. The system is generating several million dollars a year to help offset the cost of schools for every single family. In addition, another million dollars is directed to assist families with the greatest financial need. But tuition increases remain a concern.

Some of the disappointments cited in the surveys reflected the adjustments made when students move from building to building. Each Catholic school site holds students more accountable to grades, discipline and the level of homework assigned. There was some disagreement about when schools should take the grading process more seriously. Other curriculum concerns focused on the lack of STEM courses and the broader course opportunities available to students in the public school system. Parents expressed concern over the issues of bullying, lack of communication in some circumstances, and a general lack of strong leadership, either in the building or at the system level. Other points of disapproval focused on the lack of discipline for certain situations and the lack of emphasis on faith formation. Others felt like there was a disproportionate amount of energy spent on athletics and catering to higher net-worth families.

Over 100 surveys ranked the system excellent (4.0 or higher), and many of them also made suggestions for improving the school sites. Many of the comments applauded individual teachers, resolved situations and expressed appreciation for the efforts of Catholic school system employees. Each of the nine questions scored over 3.5 on a 5-point scale. The highest-ranking categories were the areas of faith formation, (4.24), coaches as mentors (4.05) and academic curriculum (4.03). The student/teacher experience in the classroom was rated 3.93 and the overall system leadership was rated 3.87.

Some of the issues in the survey are being addressed, particularly the black mulch at the K-3! Some of the other challenges directed at specific buildings were addressed over the summer and some are still being discussed at monthly leadership meetings. More importantly are how these same questions are answered every summer so that as a Catholic school community we can find a baseline of concern and continue to work together as a community to provide solutions for the issues that challenge our system.