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To Connect With Families, Schools Must Build Trust, Report Finds

The findings from a national survey of 500 school leaders suggests that districts are struggling to connect and communicate with their employees and the families they serve.

The 2019 State of K-12 Customer Experience report found that while an overwhelming majority of school leaders think building community trust is important, roughly half questioned whether their districts are effectively cultivating those relationships.

Click for more coverage of parent engagement in schools.

According to the survey, only about half of the participants expressed confidence in their district's ability to engage and build trust with parents and community members. Only a slighter higher share, 56 percent, of the school leaders were confident in their ability to effectively communicate with their own employees.

To address those concerns, the report offers advice on the roles that teachers and staff can play in building trust with families and how district leaders can improve employee engagement.

Successful school districts focus on building relationships and the customer service experience for parents, whether that's ensuring parents have a way to address scheduling and bus problem or receiving information during emergency situations, said Rich Bagin, the executive director of the National School Public Relations Association.

Conducted by K12 Insight, a Herndon, Va.-based school research and communications firm, with support from the National School Public Relations Association and the National School Boards Association, the report includes feedback from superintendents, central office staff, building principals, and school board members. The results show that even "academically strong schools struggle to connect with their communities," said Shelby McIntosh, the project lead for K12 Insight.

The survey results are available for download online at www.k12cxreport.org, with plans to add new results annually.

Among the survey respondents, 19 percent of school leaders reported that there is no district employee responsible for monitoring customer service quality. Overall, school leaders representing districts with fewer than 75,000 ranked their customer service quality higher than those from school districts with 75,000-plus students.

"There needs to be more of a focus on customer service than there has been in the past mainly because parents are expecting it," Bagin said. "One of the main characteristics, and culture, of that school, and the school district, is they are serving the public. It usually just starts at the top, or at the building level, with the principal."

While most parents would rate their own child's school highly, public opinion of K-12 schools among non-parents is on the decline.

In its annual poll of attitudes toward K-12 education, PDK found that only 19 percent of U.S. residents give the nation's schools an 'A' or 'B' grade. While about 44 percent would rate their local schools as 'A' or 'B', even that number is on the decline: Six years ago, 53 percent of the public rated schools highly.

"People look more favorably to their local schools if they are treated nicely, and fairly, and all those kinds of things that are just so important to them," Bagin said.

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