SMMUSD — The clich√© says there’s no such thing as a stupid question but the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District hopes that by asking smarter questions, it can develop more comprehensive programs to serve students.
The District launched a new centralized survey program last year that enables SMMUSD to solicit responses from parents district wide on any issue. A new survey went live ( on Sept. 4 asking about parent engagement and the District hopes the responses will inform future programs.
Individual programs, departments and school sites have always had the ability to poll their constituents but the centralized program is designed to maximize results by using a large sample size and to guarantee that answers are made public in a form that helps everyone understand the results.
“The District will develop surveys to collect data from the community to inform our decisions on important topics and also to inform the community about important issues going on,” said SMMUSD Assistant Superintendent Terry Deloria who is overseeing the project. “We had a number of people in different organizations issuing surveys and part of it was there was no common calendar so we didn’t overburden people. Also, we weren’t as tight on the closure part, we weren’t very good at publishing the results to the community then using them with the appropriate groups inside the district for improvement purposes. This effort shores up the development and follow-through part.”
The District has partnered with independent technology and communications firm K12 Insight to help run the surveys, the first of which focused on Special Education.
Deloria said the District has only just received the results and is preparing to discuss the information with the community.
Lee Jones, chair of the Special Education Advisory Committee, said the centralized process enables the district to develop a comprehensive picture, rather than rely on specialized results from individual cases. Those commonalities can form the basis for big picture programs that can then be customized when necessary.
“Survey’s have a lot of value because they help take in an entire group which you can’t look at for most questions,” she said. “They bring in information that is universal with that group about things that can be applied universally and very narrowly.”
She said surveys about subjects like special education can help parents, teachers and advocates get a running start on solutions. She said parents often spend years analyzing individual data points for their one child but the large sample size of district wide questions can pinpoint problems, or solutions, quickly.
“You can end up spending four, five, six years in terms of a waste of time but by going to the survey that collectively shows how parents feel about the broad scope and also the very narrow, then you can determine what you need to change, what’s working, what’s not working and how each one of those (questions) affects the students.”
She said the program’s partnership with K12 Insight will also increase parent involvement with the district because parents will feel more comfortable giving negative feedback and the data can be used to make decisions independent of personal relationships.
“This will allow a high number of parents to participate that would have never participated if it came from the district. That alone is very important. It will help them develop more trust, which is a very good thing and very needed and can only end with improvements in the child’s education.
Rochelle Fanali, Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council President, said the surveys provide a wealth of data that can be used to help ground decisions in relevant information.
“PTA leaders are interested in understanding how to improve our efforts to communicate and to further engage families, and the administration can use this data toward their efforts to do the same. For PTA leaders, having some good data directly from our parents can really help us focus our limited volunteer resources on what is really most important, not just what we think may be based on our own unique perceptions.”
The PTA has partnered with the district on a new survey regarding parent engagement that asks questions like: Who do you speak with when you have a concern about your student? What’s the best way for you to receive communications from your school? Do you feel welcome on campus?
“For the District administration and school principals, this data can help them focus on the best way to make our schools as family friendly as possible in ways that really matter to parents,” said Fanali.

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