Customer Experience

How a Washington school district used data to survive everything from budget cuts to a pandemic

A year ago, Vancouver Public Schools — a large school district in Washington State that serves over 23,000 students — was confronting some serious budget cuts.

The district was faced with what Vancouver Public Schools’ Research and Evaluation Analyst Bridget Hildreth called an ‘excruciating and heart-rending’ decision as administrators grappled over what would likely be dissolved. But they knew it was the community that these cuts would really affect. So they reached out using Qualtrics to ask for their input prior to making the decisions. Within just a day, they had about 4,000 responses.

The feedback was an important part of a broader stakeholder engagement and communication plan that led to passage of a three-year supplemental levy. Voters approved the measure by more than 60 percent.

I believe we gain the trust of our community when we communicate openly in times of celebration and in times of hardship

Bridget Hildreth

“Therein lies how you can forge a partnership with your community to make the hardest decisions that you have to make.”

Confronting COVID-19 with feedback from parents

Fast forward a year to a different, more global crisis. When the pandemic struck Washington, the district had to quickly figure out how to teach its students remotely and ensure that they all had the technology they needed to do so. So they used Qualtrics to ask parents what their students required, and within the first few weeks, all students had iPads, Chromebooks and access to WiFi.

Not long after, the district followed up in the same way to see how the remote tools were working and what needed to be changed. Parents were asked three open-ended questions about how they were feeling and what could be improved upon, and the district got back some 500-word essays, Hildreth said, laughing.

The great thing about Qualtrics was not having one person read over 10,000 comments. Machine learning and AI can do that for you now

Bridget Hildreth

So far, the district has reached out to parents twice using Qualtrics, giving the superintendent the opportunity to address the community’s priority concerns within 24 hours each time, Hildreth said. Most recently, the district asked parents about returning to school and received over 9,000 responses in five days about remote or hybrid models of instruction available for students — which the district has since used to inform their back-to-school plan.

“The responsiveness of our community … has been astounding,” Hildreth said. “Responses are specifically guiding us in how to best support our families and staff members. This is not easy, as you well know. … But if we keep the communication open, listen closely to the frustrations and the success stories, and have grace with each other, we will accomplish something very special for our community in these next few months.”

A look forward: Creating the new normal together

The state of Washington has set conditions that allow each district to determine when to transition to a hybrid learning model — where students will alternate between in-the-classroom and remote instruction. Vancouver plans to continue using Qualtrics to send out frequent pulses and ask parents, students, and teachers about their experience as we start the year with a fully remote teaching and learning model, said Christina Iremonger, the school district’s Chief Digital Officer.

Qualtrics will help us to continuously monitor the sentiment of our families around those decisions

Christina Iremonger

The data and its corresponding visual dashboard also allow administrators at all different levels to look at the results and formulate the information they need rather than waiting for data to come from a central office or another department, she added.

“I can't recall who I heard say this, but it is true: ‘Don't waste a crisis.’ Because there is nothing like a crisis to stimulate growth mindsets. How we do education is changing, and as a district we are stretching and pushing the boundaries,” Hildreth said.

“Undoubtedly, this year is going to be difficult. And Qualtrics is helping us strengthen our community bond by allowing us to hear each other, preemptively tackle the hard stuff ahead, and truly get through this together.”


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