Fairfax schools officials on Monday released the results of their first-ever “trust and confidence” survey, inaugurating what is slated to become a yearly attempt to quantify the community’s perception of school leadership.
The survey comes after increasingly intense criticism that the superintendent and board disenfranchised parents and teachers by handling high-profile issues — such as discipline-policy reform and the closure of Clifton Elementary — without transparency or accountability.
The school system’s survey results offered a counternarrative.
“Overall, we see that both parents and non-parent taxpayers have a pretty good sense of confidence with Fairfax county schools and what we’re doing, the direction we’re headed,” said Barbara Hunter, assistant superintendent for communications.
Respondents were asked to rate their level of agreement with more than a dozen statements about the school system, such as “FCPS is innovative,” and “FCPS school system leaders make decisions that reflect the community’s values.”
About 81 percent of parents and 63 percent of non-parent taxpayers said they agreed or strongly agreed that Fairfax’s school system is a trustworthy institution.
Fewer respondents agreed with other statements. Thirty-nine percent of non-parents believe FCPS manages its budget responsibly, for example, and 39 percent of parents believe that the quality of education has improved in Fairfax over the past two years.
Those low agreement rates were due in part to the fact that many people said they didn’t know enough about the school system to weigh in — 42 percent of taxpayers didn’t have enough information to rate the system’s fiscal accountability, for example.
Officials said that shows they need to do more community outreach to help taxpayers without kids in the schools — who account for three-quarters of Fairfax voters — understand how the schools are using their money.
Approximately 10,000 people responded to the survey, which was sent in September via e-mail to randomly selected library patrons and parents of children in the school system. The project cost about $10,000 and was conducted in September by the Boston-based consulting group District Management Council, Hunter said
School officials also interviewed small focus groups: five members of the business and community advisory council; 12 parents, 10 of which were PTA presidents; and five employees.
The groups listed “safe, clean schools,” “great reputation”and “dedicated teachers” among the system’s strengths. Concerns included:
•FCPS is becoming a business and not a community-parent based institution.
•lack of trust between parent/teacher groups and FCPS.
•too much emphasis on Standards of Learning tests.
•the achievement gap persists.
The survey was approved last year by the school board as a way to measure the effectiveness of FCPS’s communications staff — part of a broader effort to quantify progress across the system’s central-office departments.
The survey — whose results are available via PDF here — provides a baseline against which the communications staff will be measured in future years.