This past May, after a springtime festival at Will Rogers Elementary School downplayed its Cinco de Mayo roots, parents were outraged.

They flocked to an ensuing Santa Monica-Malibu school board meeting in droves to express their frustration at being ignored, or worse, even disrespected.

“We need to make sure people are included,” the school’s PTA president, Katherine Caulfield Newall, said at the time. “This is an opportunity for us to take a look at a problem that is being felt by our fellow parents.”

Officials are attempting to follow through on their promises to improve parent engagement across the school district, as evidenced by a survey launched by SMMUSD in association with PTA leaders and the district’s Classroom Teachers Association.

The survey, which is available through Sept. 11, seeks input from parents on interactions they’ve had at their children’s schools and aims to measure how welcome they feel on SMMUSD campuses.

Data collected from the survey will impact future district efforts to reach out to parents, according to a press release, and involve them in issues affecting the education of their children.

“The success of our district depends on creating strong partnerships with families and community members,” Supt. Sandra Lyon said in the release. “With their support and involvement, we can continue to create an environment aimed at extraordinary achievement for all students.”

SMMUSD is conducting the survey with the help of K12 Insight, a firm that specializes in community engagement studies for school districts. The Virginia-based company is being paid $46,000, according to the consent calendar in the school board’s Sept. 2 meeting agenda.

The survey is being presented to parents as the district begins working with renowned sociologist and educator Pedro Noguera to close the longstanding achievement gap.

Noguera has said that parent engagement is crucial to reducing the gulfs in academic performance that exist between low-income and minority students and their peers.

“The most important form of parental involvement occurs at home,” he told SMMUSD faculty and staff during a convocation last month at Santa Monica High School. “Just because a parent can’t make a 4 o’clock meeting does not mean they don’t care about their children.”

The survey asks parents if they’ve attended events like back-to-school nights, open houses, parent conferences, support groups, performances and sports games. It also asks respondents to identify how often they access or read a variety of school communication materials.

The survey then asks parents whether or not they find certain statements about their children’s campuses to be accurate, such as “I feel welcome at the school” and “Cultural diversity is appreciated at the school.”

The survey also touches on programming, participation levels, parent-staff relationships and obstacles to parent involvement as well as parents’ technology access and language preferences.

A field for open-ended input is limited to 500 characters, but there may be opportunities for further conversations in the future.

“After carefully reviewing and analyzing feedback from parents, there may be a need to explore a specific topic more closely,” the survey reads. “In some cases, we may send a short follow-up survey to better understand parental opinions. In other cases, we may hold virtual or on-site focus group discussions.”

The survey can be found at who have given the district their email addresses will receive invitations to participate. Paper copies are available at school sites upon request.

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