The resources and process advice found here are not meant to be a substitute for personal support from your district's AEA Regional Administrator. For assistance, contact Beth Strike, Director of Creative Services & Communications.
Getting Started Questions and Answers
Who from our district should be involved in developing a community needs assessment?
A great group to utilize in the development of your community needs assessment is the school improvement advisory committee (SIAC). Because the group is representative of so many facets of your community and school district, members bring a wealth of knowledge about the kind of information that might be useful to ask of the larger community. Also, according to the “school improvement law” (Chapter 12), the group is responsible for acting on the data as part of the district goal setting process. Getting them involved in the development up front just makes good sense.
What support can I get from my AEA?
Central Rivers AEA Regional Administrators are an integral part of your district’s school improvement work. They are available to guide your district through this process and act as a facilitator if needed. In addition, the agency employs others who have specialized expertise that can support your district’s work. Your Regional Administrator will enlist their help as needed. Don’t go it alone!
Step 1: Understand Your School District Needs
Having a clear understanding of what it is your school district needs to learn from the local community is the first (and some may argue the most important) step in the community needs assessment process. Consider spending a fair amount of time discussing what information will be most useful to you in the long run. Chapter 12 of the Iowa Code 281-12.8(1)a(1) requires that you query the community about the major learning needs of your students, chief among them how well the community perceives the district is meeting the students’ needs in key areas like reading, math, and science. However, there may be other areas that your group feels are important in gathering community perceptions around that are specific to your local needs (e.g. facilities, technology, future direction, etc.). Also, be clear about what the needs assessment process should, and shouldn’t be like and keep in mind that community surveys are just one piece of community data you can gather.
Step 2: Determine Types of Questions
As a discussion starter, consider sharing sample community needs assessments with your district advisory board. Remember that the idea here is not to just adopt what another district has done, but to get ideas for the types of information you may want to gather from your local community and how to go about it. Ask each individual to review the questions that other districts have asked and circle those that they believe would be most useful to ask in your local community. Invite team members to form small groups and share their ideas. As a large group, generate themes for questions that the entire group feels would be useful to ask as part of the process. District samples can be obtained by contacting your school district’s school contact or Beth Strike, Director of Creative Services & Communications.
Step 3: Narrow the Questions
Once your group has a firm grasp of the types of questions that they feel are important to ask locally, take a breath and spend some time discussing the following:
- How will we use the information to make changes or improvements to the system?
- What information have we already collected that could provide us with answers to these questions?
- Who would be our target audience for each question? Parents? Business community? Senior citizens?
Invite members of your district team to make a presentation to the group about the kinds of data the district already collects that pertain to the discussion. This step can be an informative part of the process that helps bring into the conversation data from a number of sources. For instance, if your group determines that you want to ask the community their perceptions of how safe the school is for students, point out that you also collect information about expulsion rates, incidence, and prevalence of substance use, etc. which will also inform your “results” discussion in the future.
Step 4: Determine the Gathering Tool
Next is determining which tools to utilize in actually gathering responses from your community-and it can be tricky. Are focus groups the best approach? What about an electronic survey? Should you canvas the entire community or just a sample? Much of the decision rests with the types of questions you are asking and who you want to ask them of. Some questions just lend themselves better to a more interpersonal approach where “probing” of responses can take place. Other questions are more straightforward and can be set up with a limited number of response categories. Writing good questions and determining survey methods is an art. If you haven’t enlisted the support and expertise of your district’s AEA Regional Adminstrator up to this point, now is definitely the time. An AEA assessment consultant, communication specialist and school contact can be powerful resources in question and survey development. Use them to your advantage to get the best results. This step is absolutely critical.
Step 5: Develop a Timeline
If you haven’t already, develop a timeline. Be sure that everyone is on the same page about when the results will be “in.” We would have included samples here, but your timeline will vary drastically depending on which survey method you use.
Step 6: Implement the Action Plan
Put your plan into action. As appropriate, promote your survey process through the local newspaper, school newsletter, superintendents’ blog, website, social media and other channels that your district has had success with in the past. This should be a very public process. People need to know that you care enough to enlist the attitudes of the community and that the results will be reported and acted upon.
Step 7: Process the Results
Schedule at least one entire meeting agenda devoted to processing the results and discussing how you’ll use this community feedback to inform decisions. Even if the group determines that some perceptions are inaccurate, use them as a foundation for a communication plan designed to educate and inform. Remember to report a summary of the results to the public.