For Arcadia Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Vannasdall, engaging his district’s 10,000 students and their families is a key priority—and also no small task.
With many families moving to the southern California school district from as far away as Mainland China, the district’s parent community is highly motivated and expects to be involved in important decisions. Yet despite their desire to engage, most parents struggle to attend the district’s face-to-face meetings.
“We just cannot expect that engagement is going to happen between 8:00 and 3:00 anymore. It needs to be open sourced, it needs to be available when people are available,” says Dr. Vannasdall.
When California introduced its Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) act in 2013, engaging those families became an even higher priority for Dr. Vannasdall.
“We really believed in the state’s directive to involve the entire community as best as we could – but we knew we had a problem,” he says. “Our parents weren’t able to attend our face to-face meetings.”
Engaging on a deeper level
When Dr. Vannasdall discovered ThoughtExchange, he saw the solution to his problem.
He partnered with ThoughtExchange to reach out to his community with an online exchange that let people confidentially share, in their own words, what the district was doing well and where it could improve. People could see thoughts shared by others and rate them by assigning stars—at any time convenient for them.
“ThoughtExchange saved us a tremendous amount of time because we were able to reach everyone in the same process. Normally it would take months to get input from all of our stakeholder groups. To be able to run one process, and get that amount of feedback from parents, community members, the business community and students is very important to us,” Dr. Vannasdall says.
Arcadia’s exchange also yielded the highest number of staff responses that the District had ever received. Dr. Vannasdall believes that was because ThoughtExchange offered an alternative to “the one-way, very-directional surveys,” that had been used in the past.
“People invested time in answering our surveys, but they weren’t ever really sure if their input was being heard or what was being done with it. ThoughtExchange solved that. Everyone can actually see that their responses were acknowledged and understand how others felt about them. That really resonated with people.”
"ThoughtExchange saved us a tremendous amount of time because we were able to reach everyone in the same process. Normally it would take months to get input from all of our stakeholder groups."Dr. David Vannasdall, Superintendent
Making meetings more productive
The LCAP also mandated Arcadia with holding a number of in-person meetings with various community groups. Dr. Vannasdall and his team used their ThoughtExchange results to make those meetings more productive.
“Having the data as a starting point really started the conversation at a deeper level. Normally, it would have taken three meetings to get to that point. It didn’t take away from the in-person process, it only enhanced it, and saved time and resources,” he explains.
“We started from a place where we already agreed on what the problems were and had a wealth of information to draw from when it came to discussing solutions. It was pretty life changing for us.”
Better decisions and a more-invested community
By leveraging ThoughtExchange’s ability to surface district-wide and site-specific priorities, Arcadia’s leadership team was able to be more granular and responsive in their approach to the LCAP.
“You begin to see this alignment where all the arrows are pointing in the same direction,” Dr. Vannasdall says. “The district themes helped us tremendously as a leadership team, and each principal was able to break down their site results, and sit down with their leadership team, to make some really solid decisions on how to spend their site money based on their site LCAP.”
Along with more effective resource allocation and decision-making, Dr. Vannasdall notes that ThoughtExchange has helped him be transparent with his community and involve more people by letting them know they’ve been heard.
“People really felt valued and validated, and liked the ThoughtExchange format. We are continuing to use it annually for our LCAP, and the community is growing with us in that,” he says. “We are continuing now to see not only more people participating, but people investing more in what they are sharing with us.”
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- Get more busy people to engage in a community-wide discussion about LCAP priorities
- Make in-person meetings with community groups more effective
- A broad-based exchange that asked the community open-ended questions, let them respond in their own words, and exchange thoughts with others.
- A more responsive and granular approach to LCAP through surfacing of district-wide and site-specific priorities
- Greater community involvement and ownership of district decisions