Editorial: District 11 recognizes value of surveying graduates, seniors

by Joe Nathan

Anoka-Hennepin is one of several districts recognizing the value of surveying graduates, and seniors about to graduate. Recently I contacted about 35 Minnesota districts and five charter public schools. Twenty-six responded.

Just under half do these surveys. But in every case, where it’s done, school officials are gaining useful information.

Jeffrey McGonigal Anoka Hennepin associate superintendent wrote, in part, “We value the perceptions of our graduates and seek to gather that information when possible. Once a student graduates and departs this task is extremely difficult.

“Given that fact, our survey of seniors in May is our best opportunity. “

Anoka Hennepin Research, Evaluation, and Testing Director Johnna Rohmer-Hirt explained that this is the second year that the district is doing a senior exit survey.

“Building level career placement specialists have reviewed the data as it pertains to their work,” she said.

Duane Berkas, director of Teaching and Learning, Columbia Heights Public Schools told me that the district “has begun tracking its alumni in college through the National Student Clearinghouse.

“This data is helpful in getting an accurate read on how many of our students are enrolling and completing college.

“In addition, we are working on maintaining communication with alumni through Facebook and targeted e-mail campaigns.  We find that students and staff are very interested in hearing from our former students.

“Last year our school newspaper ran a regular column written by the former editor now attending Carleton on the transition from high school to college.

“Our AVID classrooms invite two to three alumni back every year to speak about the transition from high school to college and how best to prepare for these challenges.

“One current project is a film that captures alumni responses to a series of questions on the degree they were prepared for college that can be shared with teachers and students.

“…Feedback from alumni has shown us that we need to focus more on certain areas such as improving students’ writing skills.  It has also reassured us that we are doing many things well.

“Alumni experiences show that our AP classes provide the kind of rigor that prepare students well for college courses.

“Many of our former AP students have expressed their appreciation at being able to save time and money by receiving college credit for the AP courses they completed in our high school.

“It has also been interesting to hear how many of our alumni have commented on how much they appreciate having been part of the rich diversity present in our schools and having developed the skills to interact comfortably with students from varied backgrounds.”

John Schultz, Hopkins superintendent, wrote that when curricular areas are under review, (we) “have surveyed graduates to understand how the curriculum and instruction received in Hopkins supported their transition to post secondary schooling.

“In most recent times, we have made improvements and refinements to our writing curriculum and instruction.”

Finally, Rosemount Principal John Wollersheim responded, “We survey our graduates every year. We use this information to track college access for our students.

“Additionally, the most concrete thing we use as a result of the survey is the section where the students thank teachers.

“Because “Gratitude” is one of our monthly themes – we’ve constructed opportunities for students (to) thank specific teachers. We integrate those responses into staff development days and it always sets a great tone for the day!”

Editor’s note: Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota Public School teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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