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Survey says: Winnisquam needs to improve communication, technology


September 09, 2009
TILTON — A very small handful of residents spent an evening with 15 or so administrators and faculty from the Winnisquam Regional School District last Thursday, engaging in roundtable conversations about the district's strengths and shortcomings.

The public forum was held the same day an online district survey ended, and most of the discussion echoed responses to the survey. Mark Dolan, who facilitated the discussion and is helping the district with its strategic planning process, said 62 people took the survey. He provided copies of responses to the open-ended questions, which asked what the school district's strengths are and what needs to be improved. Responses to the first question took up about one page, while suggestions for improvements filled more than two.

Strengths included "dedicated teachers and administrators" and "commitment to improve," along with several comments praising "most teachers." Areas needing improvement, according to survey results, include communication, discipline, and technology. Communication in particular came up numerous times. Several responses also suggested that the district needs to provide more challenging academics and higher academic standards, and a few people want a full-day kindergarten option, among other things.

Dolan said the survey was one of two important events in starting the district's strategic planning process. The second, he said, was the forum.

"Your being here is important," Dolan said to the small group who attended what he dubbed the "education café."

The forum centered around three focus questions, which were discussed in small groups that "cross pollinated" by breaking up and moving to other tables after several minutes. Dolan said the "cross pollination" would produce a "better output of ideas."

"It's meant to be fun," he said, encouraging participants to doodle and color as they talked about the focus questions. "It's meant to be interactive."

At the end of the roundtable sessions, Dolan had each table pick the top two or three responses to the three questions to highlight recurring themes.

The first question was "What are we doing really well as a school district?" Answers that came up numerous times included: offering more opportunities for growth; increasing the graduation rate while lowering the dropout rate; meeting Adequate Yearly Progress; and a move toward improving communication.

The second question was "What are the district's biggest challenges or areas to improve?" The use of relevant technology, as well as better communication both in the schools and to parents and the community, were the top two areas that participants saw as needing improvement. Adequate funding, written in capital letters with an exclamation point for emphasis, was seen as a challenge by district administration and faculty.

Ernie Roy, the father of five students in the Winnisquam district, said AP classes aren't challenging enough. He also said he'd like to see teachers go beyond "teaching to the test."

"(We need to do) a better job of teaching how to think logically and critically," Roy said, callung the ability to think critically "the cradle of innovation and the spark of ingenuity."

The third question was "If you were a student, what would you want to see different?" Answers ranged from new lockers and better food to fewer rules and more consistent discipline for those who break them. "Fun stuff" like recess, school dances and pep rallies were discussed as things that kids want that help the whole child develop academically, socially and physically and "promote community."

At the end of the evening, Dolan said the survey results and recurring themes from the night's discussion will be utilized by the Strategic Planning Committee, which will meet for the first time at the end of the month.

"This was really good," Dolan said. "I really appreciate everyone coming out."

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