FL schools wise in surveying graduates

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Forest Lake Area Schools wisely recognize 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 surveys.  But in every case, where it’s done, school officials are gaining useful information.

Steve Massey, Forest Lake High School principal, reported: “We survey seniors at the end of the year to gather information on their plans after graduation. Our Perkins program surveys graduates during their first year after graduation. The intent of both of these surveys is to gather post-secondary plan data.

“Based on this information, we have implemented the following:

a. A finals schedule; b. More Advanced Placement and CIS courses; c. A senior picnic on seniors’ last day of school.”

Shannon Peterson of Lakes International Language Academy charter school in Forest Lake, explained: “We’ve only recently started surveying our graduates. We did so this year as part of a self-evaluation process to renew our IB authorization. Based on their feedback about language ambassadors being one of the most positive aspects of their experiences at LILA, the PTO voted to authorize hiring additional language ambassadors for next year.

“Our language ambassador program brings young education majors or recent ed. grads from target-language countries to work as assistants and language/culture models in the classroom. They get paid a stipend by the PTO, and stay with host families for the year.”

Jay Haugen, Farmington superintendent, wrote: “We survey our seniors each year. Because of this, and other information, we added a career counseling position and Naviance. We feel we would get a lot better information if we developed a system that kept track of and obtained feedback from our graduates for some number of years after graduation. At some point we will explore this topic in greater detail.”

Rosemount High School Principal John Wollersheim explained: “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!”

Tom Nelson, West St Paul superintendent, reported: “Our district did survey our seniors this past year.  The results of this short survey did lead to a more comprehensive checklist for seniors that focuses on the college application process and their preparing for the next steps in their future.  Guidance folks went into each senior classroom and walked through the checklist (“Options Beyond High School”) guide that was assembled by our staff.”

Duane Berkas, director of teaching and learning, Columbia Heights, 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 email campaigns.  We find that students and staff are very interested in hearing from our former students… 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…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.”

Joe Nathan, a former Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu.

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