Transcript: Centering Relationships and Data for Informed Decision Making
On behalf of the California Center for School Climate (CCSC), I’d like to welcome you all to Centering Relationships and Data for Informed Decision Making, a panel in this event from the California Center for School Climate (CCSC), today, the Power of Relationships in Positive School Climates. My name is Kenwyn Derby, Senior Research Associate at WestEd, and I’ll be a moderator to today’s session. Let me just say a little bit about the California Center. This is a California Department of Education initiative led by WestEd. We provide free support and training on school climate and data use to local education agencies across California, and we connect educators with each other to learn and share best practices. Some of the things that we offer are on the screen right now and our website can be found on the Linktree in the chat.
Okay, so moving to the panel, let’s think about this whole day, this morning, if anybody was at the keynote, Jaleel Howard noted the importance of meaningful connections between students and adults in school. I keep recalling his imploring us to connect. He said, “We need each other, folks.” He kept saying, “We need each other.” And he stressed really getting to know each and all of the students in our lives as individuals, no matter their background or ours. I heard a lot from him about listening, and here in this district panel, we’ll hear more about listening. Listening in our communities in many ways, and venues, listening to all partners in our spaces, especially those who’ve been historically underserved, learning from conversations, from data, from colleagues and our students. Equitable engagement is something our guests really value and prioritize. During the session, we’ll be continuing this conversation on the power of relationships, here in the context of using data to improve school climate. Our speakers will highlight how they’ve centered building authentic relationships, which allows for the collection and use of more robust data for informed decision making.
And then further, how the communication and intentional application of these data continues to strengthen the relationships with family, staff, and the education community. It’s a self-reinforcing process really. They have stories about how bringing in more and varied voices has led to better outcomes and more trusting cultures. But first, let me just orient you to the format of the session so you know what to expect. We’ll start by hearing from each district team and then we’ll bring them together and I’ll ask some questions. You can again, enter questions using the Q&A feature in the bottom of the Zoom, and we also have the chat open during the rest of this session, so you can ask other types of questions in the chat. Some of you have already submitted some questions during registration, so I have those already. And again, I’ll continue to look at your questions.
As a reminder, slides and resources that we’re going over, will be in the Linktree in the chat. And at the end of the session, before we close out, we’ll ask you to fill out a poll and we’ll tell you about our last session, which is the youth panel, with a QR code that you can register for to attend. And lastly, we’re going to have a 15-minute break in this room, where my colleague, Jenny Betzs, will lead a mindfulness activity. So if you have the time to stay, we welcome you. At long last, let me introduce our generous panelists, you see them there on the screen.
We have from Hemet Unified School District, Dr. Jennifer Martin, Assistant Superintendent of Improvement and Analytics. She’s been with Hemet since 2012 as an administrator, most recently an assistant superintendent of student services. Prior to that, she served as a principal of an elementary and middle school in the district. In her new role, she supports the district effort to improve student learning outcomes from a systems perspective, through continuous improvement. And she actively works to further Hemet Unified’s vision to design a system that leads to equitable educational outcomes for all students, especially those who’ve been kept furthest from opportunity.
With her today is Kimberly Romeril, Principal of Hemet High School. Prior to this position, Kim served as an administrator at an elementary, middle, and high school in Hemet Unified. She’s committed to collaborative relationships with students, family, staff, and other community members on the path to equity and excellence for all students. And her three children are proud graduates of Hemet High School.
Then we’re turning to Azusa Unified School District. We have Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant. She’s an education consultant there now, and she’s worked in the California Public Education system for over 30 years. She began her career as a classroom teacher in a Title I school, serving historically underserved students. And since then, she’s focused on ensuring equitable comprehensive education for all students in partnership with families and communities. And today, her mission is to continue to provide opportunities to students and families to be empowered, fulfilled, and reach their full potential.
And last, but certainly actually most is Mayra Rico. She’s a family member and many other things in Azusa. She’s a proud parent of three daughters in the schools there. And as she became a parent volunteer, she noticed the need for greater parent involvement and became an advocate and a voice for those families who can’t be as involved as they might like. Mayra serves on various committees including being the president of the school site council at Azusa High, parent representative for both Parent Advisory Council and Superintendents Roundtable, and a member of the executive PTA board. She also works with community liaisons at Azusa schools to help facilitate the Family and Schools Program and so much more, which you can read about on our website.
Okay, so let us turn now to our team from Hemet Unified School District. In Hemet Unified, there were school safety challenges that you were facing and there was a shift in how you addressed school safety by focusing on systems and strengthening your relationships with your school and your district. Jen, let’s start with you. Tell us about this work and what this improvement journey has really meant for Hemet.
Dr. Jennifer Martin:
Absolutely. Well, thank you. Good afternoon. It’s just such a pleasure to be serving Hemet Unified for the last 11 years as administrator, but what I think is most exciting is the way that Hemet is approaching trying to improve our student outcomes. And over the past couple of years, we’ve been very focused in trying to be strategic in applying scientific improvement methodologies. And we’ve been focusing really from shifting from addressing surface level problems, to trying to solve problems to root. And shifting from a focus on a people performance, to really understanding our systems, which those people work inside of. And so simply said, and you see on the screen here, we really have been intentional on focusing on our systems and not people. One way to help illustrate kind of that approach is the story of the Washington Monument. So, the Washington Monument, this is a true story, so you can search this after, but it was deteriorating and it was deteriorating because there was a lot of bird poop on the monument and they were having to use harsh cleaners, it was deteriorating this precious stone.
And it was deteriorating and had more bird poop than most monuments in and around the Washington area. And so instead of continuing to work in the way that they were working, ruining the monument, those at the monument decided to ask why and to get curious. And so they brought in an aviary specialist to help understand why do they have a mass amount of birds that’s collecting bird poop. And the aviary specialists, “Well, you have a lot of birds because there’s a lot of spiders.” So, they continued to ask why. And they brought an arachnid special, “Why do we have all these spiders?” And the spider specialist said, “Well, because you have so many gnats.” And I’m not going to be able to pronounce what is a specialist in insects, but they brought that person in and they wanted to understand why are there so many insects or these gnats around that our spiders are feeding on?
And they said, “Well, because you guys turn on the lights at the Washington Monument an hour before the sun rises and it attracts all of the gnats. So, if you turn on your lights one hour later, you’ll not have as many gnats, which will solve for your spider issue, which will solve for your birds, which will solve for your bird poop and thus, solve the solution around the deteriorating stone of the Washington Monument.” This example has been shared throughout our district as a way to say, in education, we have unfortunately solved for a lot of bird poop for a long time. We no longer want to do that. We want to get to root as to why we have the outcomes that we have, and this is an approach to understanding your data. So, we got curious and we started asking why.
And so, this led us to start applying improvement methodologies and working very close with those closest to the work in order to ensure we understand why this was happening. We believe also in Hemet Unified that safety is a pre-condition for any of our students and our staff to be successful. In order to leverage entry point to start working in this way, solving for the lighting issue and not the bird poop, we decided that we wanted to partner as one of our efforts with our largest comprehensive high school, Hemet High School, because they have great bones. They’re a representative of our school district’s demographics, they have a very strong leadership team, and that’s not just their site administration, that’s their staff as well, they have very strong staff leaders, and unfortunately, they’re not short on safety incidences.
And so just to give perspective, Hemet High School serves nearly 2,500 students. It’s 82% low socioeconomic, 9% English learners, 1% foster and homeless, and unfortunately dangerous behaviors that have led to student fights alone, that’s one dangerous behavior, resulted in an average of 250 suspensions a year for the last two years. So, we got curious. We wanted to know why this was happening, why do we have so many fights and what in our system could we do to improve to better serve our students, our families, and our staff in service of safety? And so we partnered with Hemet High School by creating a pilot team that was comprised of site staff, as well as administration. And the goal was to create a system that involved standardized routines and processes, so would allow us to one, identify safety incidences that were happening and we were starting with student fights, and then a process to understand why that happened, what was the root cause to that fight, and then be very disciplined to test change ideas, to be able to solve, not just fix but to solve.
We wanted to get down to the lighting issue, not the bird poop, and never have that happen again. And then to be able to share our learnings across the organization, what at Hemet High School would benefit all other school sites. To share how we began the development of what we called a real-time safety system, I want to introduce Hemet High principal, Mrs. Kim Romeril.
Thank you so much, Jen, and it’s a pleasure to be here with you all today. I wanted to start out by sharing a quote that’s been attributed to Einstein and it states, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We knew that we needed to do things differently and that meant getting a team together that had confidence that we had the ability to make change. We had to change our mindset from fixing to solving, like Dr. Martin shared. No one person, we realized, can see the entire system as we all have different perspectives. And so that picture of the elephant is illustrated, showing that we all see different sides of the elephant, and that is our perspective. So one that’s at the front of the elephant might say, it’s a spear and someone on the back might say it’s a rope because they only see the tail. So, it’s very important for us to really have that team centric approach.
We developed a team of teachers, administrators, our discipline secretary, our PBIS specialist and campus security to begin the work at and improving pre-fight and fight behavior on our campus. The ability to understand the system that was leading to these high number of fights and related suspensions could only be understood through building trusting relationships with those experiencing the system. We needed to create space for them, and what I mean by that is staff, students and families to have a voice and to openly and honestly share their experiences and help us get to that true root cause of our unsafe outcomes. We also realized that as an admin team, and I know you all can probably relate, that we do not have the opportunity to calibrate and connect during the day as we all have varying responsibilities that take us in different directions. And oftentimes we don’t even see each other or are even able to talk throughout the day.
So, we knew that in order for us to impact change and improve our systems, we needed to find time daily to meet and discuss pre-fight and fight behavior, so we were no longer working in silos when making decisions. From our reflection came the implementation of our daily 20-minute huddle each morning where pre-fight and fight incidents are discussed. These short little huddles have disciplined us to look at problems that arise a different way than we are used to really problem solving, it’s really that solve not fixed mindset. We focus on our progress toward making Hemet High safer and we prioritize the highest impact safety incidents. We have a log that we look at and we look at the incidents that we feel are the highest impact. We identify the process breakdown of those incidents, investigate to root cause and work with those closest to the problem to develop a change idea and then test the solution.
When we are seeking to learn about fight and pre-fight behavior, we use a tool called empathy interviews, which I’m going to give a little example about, and we do this to help support people that are experiencing the unsafe incident. Building relationships to understand our data may be best illustrated through the story of a student here, I’m going to call, Jasmine. A couple of weeks ago during our huddle, our team was working on getting to a root cause on a fight that happened at the stadium during PE between two girls. We realized that in our huddle we needed to get some more information from Jasmine who was involved in the fight.
So I set up a meeting after our huddle with Jasmine, and when we met, she and I met, she was very nervous, she didn’t know why she was in the principal’s office, she thought that she was going to be in trouble again, and I sat her down and I explained to her that I was aware of the altercation that occurred between her and another student and was really truly seeking to understand what happened and what we could have done to help support a better outcome for her and the other student.
In that conversation, she shared that she made several attempts to connect with the staff to support her, as she knew that the other young lady wanted to fight. She asked one of her teachers to leave the class to speak to her counselor and she wasn’t allowed to leave. She eventually met with a counselor later that day and reported the issue between her and the other girl to the counselor. The counselor then advised her to go to the discipline office to write a statement, which she complied and she did. But from there, unfortunately the statement was lost in the shuffle of a busy day and never assigned to an administrator. The next day, the girl confronted Jasmine during PE and they engaged in a verbal then a physical altercation. There were obvious system breakdowns that occurred, that I recognized through this interview that I had with Jasmine.
And had I not had the opportunity conduct this empathy interview, I would’ve not had this new information to bring back to the team, and really looking at solving from a true systems lens. Through this approach, we are changing the culture and outcomes at Hemet High School. We’re taking a listening stance; we’re seeking to understand root causes and identifying ways to improve our systems from those closest to the work. And so it’s obviously improving our data quite drastically, as you can see illustrated here, around student suspensions relating to fights. We’re not perfect, but we are working and we’re making some really deep strides. And so we know that this approach is also changing the culture on our campus in very positive ways, such as students, staff and families feel heard, they feel more involved and they feel a greater sense of ownership to be able to solve safety incidents with us together. I’m going to take it back to Jen.
Dr. Jennifer Martin:
Thank you, Principal Romeril. Just as an organization, we are trying to create an entire team of improvers, by building capacity, especially this year, in all of our leaders to approach problem solving in this manner, but using Hemet High School to understand how do we continue to get a view of how the system is or is not supporting those that it’s serving. And in this case, it’s our students, our families, and our staff. And that in order to understand our data, we have to elicit the voices that are closest to the work or to the problem. And so these are two tenets that we believe in and are trying to live by. And so just trying to really intentionally build the muscle around this type of problem solving in our organization, and we believe it’s through leveraging relationships, as we engage with our students, our family, our staffs, and our community members who are going to assist us in better understanding our data and why we have the outcomes that we have.
They’re the ones that can help us highlight the process breakdowns and how we could better serve them. Through these intentional interactions with people closest to the work, as Principal Romeril mentioned, and we are seeing this not just at Hemet High School, but across our organization, we are gaining a better clear vision of what needs to be improved and worked on. Where is it going wrong? We need to know the lighting issue inside of Hemet Unified, not the bird poop issue, but we are also improving outcomes as an opportunity to also develop our culture, through building greater trust, having greater involvement, as well as greater ownership, this capacity to be able to solve problems. And so just appreciative to get to share some of the work of Hemet and how using and leveraging relationships to understand our data has helped us excel in improving outcomes on behalf of students.
This is Kenwyn again. We can hear a lot of examples of new systems, improved culture, and improved outcomes. It’s really clear that change is happening. And you shared that really illustrative example of an empathy interview and you talked about elevating voices. Is there anything else you want to share about your approach in getting the voices of those closest to the problem or closest to the work, into the work?
Sure, I can answer that. So we’ve been very intentional at including people closest to the work. Like I mentioned, that means anybody, it could be anybody on campus. One of the things that we’ve done is our daily huddles, like I mentioned, that has been a game changer for us, even though they’re 20 minutes, we’re very disciplined in that. Our empathy interviews, and I believe Dr. Martin, we are going to be sharing something that really talks about how to facilitate an empathy interview with you all, so you’ll have that as a tool. Seeking input from staff to improve systems, so instead of us making the change idea, eliciting feedback from those closest to the work and working together on a change idea so we’re not in silos. And as a result, it is built trusting relationships and collective buy-in. Staff, students, and families, like I had mentioned earlier, feel so much more valued and heard and we’ve opened the door for transparent conversations about data and working together to build stronger systems. I think that has been key.
Dr. Jennifer Martin:
Kenwyn, you’re on mute.
Dr. Jennifer Martin:
No problem. Yeah, and so just as Principal Romeril mentioned, we would like to share that resource. It’s definitely a tool and a strategy that we feel has helped us leverage getting the voices of those closest to the work, we call it a one sheeter. And so, if anyone’s interested on how we structure our empathy interviews, a quick tool to get moving on that type of a strategy.
Great. So that link is included in our link tree already, that handout, and that sounded like improvement science at its best. Thank you so much for sharing that. I’m going to transition to Azusa for a little while now. We just heard a lot about listening and voice, and we’re going to take a little bit of a different lens in Azusa, same bringing in voices, with a more of a focus on families. When local control and accountability plans became a requirement for districts to improve student outcomes in California, Azusa used this opportunity to move from family involvement to really robust family engagement. They created parent advisory committees and with time, those evolved and we’re going to hear about that. So I’m going to turn to Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant, please tell us more about how that process evolved.
Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant:
Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m going to share my screen and hopefully you’ll see a little bit about some of the things we’ve done. It’s a pleasure to be here. I am a retired director of metrics and LCAP from Azusa Unified School District. And of course, as any district person, administrator knows, you do a lot of things besides what’s in your job title. With the LCAP, of course, that touches on every aspect of a district, and part of that is really working with our parents and our families, building positive relationships and making those authentic decision making in relationships where we can use data to make decisions about our LCAP, and then beyond. The strategic plan in Azusa is the LCAP, and then everything that’s happening in our district stems from that.
I’m joined today by one of Azusa’s amazing parents, Ms. Mayra Rico. It is such a pleasure and always an honor to partner with her because we’ve been doing this for some time, and so I just want to publicly thank her for this gift of time that she’s given to me and to you all today. Azusa’s been through an LCAP parent and engagement journey, and I want to share a little bit of that with you. Initially, like so many districts, when the LCAP came into being well over 10 years ago, we began the process by doing the road show and meeting the statue, okay, here’s this thing we need to do. And so we gathered up our ideas, we put together an LCAP and we went from school to school kind of sharing with our parents and our families and getting their input after we shared it, and of course separately sharing with our teachers and then our classified, our CSEA staff and then sharing with our administrators and just like the statute required, getting all of that consultation and feedback on that LCAP.
And we began to think more about this process. And the choice is really, do we want to comply with the law or do we want to authentically engage in the process and make it something really powerful and useful for our district? And so, we began to look at this engaging our education partners for our LCAP, and we said, “Why don’t we ensure that all voices are heard, but that the voices can actually even hear each other and build these relationships as we’re getting feedback for our parents.” We created a PAC like many districts, a parent advisory committee, and then the next year after we really looked at our process, we said, “Let’s combine our parents with our teachers, and our classified staff and our administrators and make it what we call PAC Plus.” All of these voices are in the room together, sharing, hearing, learning from each other, understanding and building relationships as they provide input for the decisions for our district.
We went through that process with that first iteration of PAC. And throughout this whole process, we constantly were gathering data, gathering input on how we were doing. And one of the first things we realized with our PAC Plus was that our parents weren’t engaging and sharing and feeling as comfortable voicing their opinions and their ideas. And we looked at the makeup of our PAC Plus and we saw that it was very equal when it came to staff. And, actually, we had parents from our high-needs students, which were our foster youth and our students who are emerging multilinguals, our English learners and our low-income students, and then we also had representatives of students with disabilities. And we realized that the balance there was problematic in that it really inhibited parents because there were many more staff members. And so we, next year, flipped it and added well more than double the number of parents, and we decided every school in our district would have a parent PAC Plus representative, and then we would also continue to have two representatives from those high needs student population groups.
And that, we saw, began to make significant changes in the parents feeling of comfort and competency in sharing their ideas and asking questions of educators in the room with them. And so we continue to gather through end of session surveys and feedback forms, the process of how all of our participants were doing in building positive relationships, feeling a sense of belonging and feeling like their voices were heard and that they were an important part of our PAC Plus. And then of course, that data continued to evolve and we realized that to have a group of people build strong relationships with good understanding of local control funding formula and the complex system of state funding in the LCAP monies, that we needed to create more time. So we extended the time of our PAC Plus meetings and we explicitly began to build opportunities for those members to grow in their understanding of LCAP and LCFF.
It’s one thing for our parents to create and provide feedback, but if it’s not something that is actionable, if it’s not something we can implement, then it really ends up being a negative experience, a negative experience for the district because you’re not really getting anything useful. Every school wants to buy bounce houses, for example. We know that with our supplemental and concentration money, that’s not something you’re going to be able to go out and do. But if we engage our parents and our families and our staff in fully understanding and being connected to one another to create really actionable ideas, then our LCAP was even more powerful and really reflective of that collaborative decision making. We continued to grow, our PAC Plus grew, we developed a student advisory council that really was the mirror image of our PAC Plus, and they also provided the input and feedback and we engaged them in making decisions.
And throughout this entire process, even when we were acknowledged by the state of California and selected as a district with promising practices in the state, and we won a golden bell, even then, we never stopped using data to drive our improvement, collecting, hearing, understanding, was our process working and were our families and our staff members, particularly our families, engaged and feeling empowered by this process? And so that’s been this ongoing journey of cycles of continuous improvement. I would like to show you just a few pictures of some of our PAC Plus. You can see Mayra there in the center. These are some of the engaging relationship-building strategies we use when we’re engaging and doing our LCAP PAC Plus meetings. Some of these photos are also of our students really diving deeply into understanding the state education system and providing their really valuable input.
One of the things that we say when we share about our work in Azusa, is that really there are four success drivers to our LCAP engagement of education stakeholders, and these really have helped us and remain part of our continuous cycle of improvement. The first being transparency, complete and open transparency, no one’s hiding anything. We are all here for the same purpose and that we build trust, which again contributes to those relationships when we are transparent. Collaborative practices, this is another success driver. We create explicit opportunities for our families, our staff, our students to collaborate with each other, to build positive relationships. We want them to feel, our PAC Plus to feel like they are a community of themselves, because sometimes you have to have really difficult conversations and those collaborative practices that have led to positive relationships allow you to work through difficult conversations.
It’s really hard to have tough conversations, but when you disagree with someone, if you can say, “Man, I don’t agree with what Mayra’s saying, but I know Mayra and I really like Mayra, so I’m going to work with her and we’re going to work through this difficult decision making.” We went, and maybe Mayra can share more later, we went so far as to expand our PAC Plus even beyond the LCAP, we had to do major budget cuts in our district due to declining enrollment. And we opened the books and allowed our PAC Plus to help guide the board in determining some of the best ways to make cuts that are always painful for our community. So, we really value collaborative practices. And we want to empower and provide agency to everybody, we want to empower people to be collaborative, we want to empower and give agency to people to understand the education system LCAPs, LCFF, budgets, so that they can really give powerful good ideas and that they can then see, in our LCAP and in our district plans where their input has been adopted.
And finally, one of the most powerful pieces that’s threaded through all the other success drivers really is the data collection. If we’re going to be in cycles of continuous improvement, you have to be looking at data, you have to be looking at constant feedback from our families, from our students and staff. It’s surveys, it’s empathy interviews like Hemet mentioned, it’s touchpoints at the ends of meetings that guide the next meeting, and also annual measures of how we are doing in our practice and processes. So, these really have driven the success around the engagement of our parents and families and students in Azusa Unified School District. And so definitely want to give Mayra a chance to add on, not only to some of the things I’ve said, but to share her experiences with being such an integral part of the Azusa Unified School District community.
Thank you so much, Dr. Edic Bryant. Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here. And I have to say one of the most impactful things was really getting to know parents from other schools, knowing that we all had the same worries, we were going through similar things in our schools, with our students, and then having the space where we can meet, talk, collaborate, that was amazing. Just like Dr. Edic Bryant said, yes, at one point we had to go through some cuts and the district opened the books and it was very stressful as parents being there and deciding what was more important, everything was important. So having to make those hard choices was really hard, we’d go home with a headache. But knowing that this district really had this genuine care, that they really wanted us to engage, to learn, was really special.
And I think that’s what makes Azusa Unified very strong, is that the parent engagement opportunities are many. PAC Plus is just one of them, there are so many more. But getting to collaborate with other parents, getting to collaborate with administration, with staff, really listening to everybody’s point of view, learning different things, it was just very impactful and it made us advocates for the district. We went back to our schools and to the community and being able to explain why the school district had to make a decision, why our board had to vote on certain things, was very eye-opening to a lot of people in our community, and I think that that was just great.
Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant:
Thank you. Thank you so much, Mayra. I think part of this relationship building that we build, whether it’s in the PAC Plus or in all of the other aspects of where we engage our families and our staff, is about again, looking at the data, understanding how our practices, our protocols, our working, and are they getting us to our aim of positive collaborative discussions that result in good outcomes. So again, appreciate Mayra, your input and sharing some of your experiences.
I have a further question for you, Mayra, as parents had a seat at the table, and as you had more access to data, and then it sounds like you and others became parent educators as well. What changes did you see in the parents, in their participation, in their attitudes?
It definitely improved, everybody knowing more, being more educated, just helped our whole district. We understood why certain decisions were being made, and that just made a whole difference.
Yeah, I think, do I recall from a previous conversation, that you all saw a higher response rate, so more people responding to surveys, more people coming to the meetings from the community and from families?
Yes, that is true. And I think that being in the PAC Plus, just seeing how important that data was, it really also helped the district spread the word, there’s a survey, we need to participate, it’s important that they hear our voice, because the decisions that are made are based on all of the data that’s collected. So we need to know really what is going on, what are the needs, what does our community want? So that made us understand how important this data was.
When you see the data being used, it doesn’t seem like a waste of time anymore. You’re willing to participate and answer all the questions because people are listening. That’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing. I’d love to bring back our Hemet team, as well, and ask you all some questions. So, we’ve had some questions in the Q&A, but also during registration, and I have a thousand questions of my own, but I will take a backseat and ask you something that someone else asked. We have a number of questions about what kind of data you collect. So, we’ve heard, a lot of this question has been answered, so we heard about surveys, we heard about empathy interviews. We know that there’s data collected from a typical student information system and in meetings, touchpoints, in these huddles, you share, in Hemet, about the data. Are there other ways that you collect data, besides empathy interviews and surveys, that you can share with folks on this session? And I’m going to put that to anyone.
Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant:
Yeah, I’ll go ahead and do a quick start. And just as I mentioned, I didn’t get into the details, after every PAC Plus meeting, student advisory council meeting or any event that we have, we do quick checkpoints, and those include kind of quantitative, agree to disagree, one through five type questions that really intend to see if we met the mark, did we do what we intended to do? And then also very open-ended qualitative responses, where we can see and allow our people to give us feedback. And that data is really that super actionable data, those little feedback points and surveys at the end of each meeting, that allow us to improve the next time we even meet. And then we use that bigger data with our annual survey and then focus groups with students and focus groups with parents, representative groups that can give us deeper understanding to some of our survey data.
One year we did our survey of students and they began to tell us that they were feeling less safe. The data, the numbers showed that students claiming that they were feeling safe at school went way down. And so we used interviews with students and asked them to provide more input. And similar to Hemet’s story of making sure we’re addressing the symptoms, not the symptoms, but the causes, we found out that they had taken this survey two weeks after the Parkland shooting. They were concerned with some of the things happening and, in our world, and gun violence. And so they said, “We don’t even know if you have a plan in case something happens in Azusa.” And so our solution was then to be better at communicating with them that we have a plan and that you are safe and here are the things, and then the next year, the data went up again. So really digging into deeper levels of understanding with data is really important as well.
Thanks. Dr. Martin, it looks like you were going to answer that as well. And I’d love for you not only to talk about sources of the information, but I’m wondering, as you dig into different ways of collecting information, did the results challenge any of your assumptions?
Dr. Jennifer Martin:
Yeah, so I will talk just a moment about the fact that in our district we’re saying in order to collect data, it could take a clipboard and a stopwatch. There should be easy ways to be able to collect and understand how our system is operating and the outcomes that it’s getting. And so Kim had mentioned the idea of huddles and that they’re reviewing a safety log. We have our traditional student information systems, like every school district, but what is different about the safety log, which is just a Google Sheet, is that we pull in the basic information about what happened. That’s what a student information system typically does, that’s really about what most data systems is, what do you have, but why do you have it and how are you going to fix it are the next two steps.
So in our safety log that we have, we capture every fight at Hemet High School that goes onto that log. Most likely it’s already in our student information system, but for us, it’s really important to understand why that happened. And so in a Google Sheet, it just moves along progressively as we dive deeper into understanding why did that occur, from our student’s perspective, from our parents’ perspective, from our staff’s perspective, and then what are we going to do to try to solve for it so that it doesn’t happen again? And then taking that information and continuing to share it throughout the organization. And so that simple Google Sheet to dive deeper into problem solving and capturing and working with people closer to the work, gets shared all the way up to our superintendent so that they have access to that information. And when things are replicable, that we want to share across the organization, we’re able to do that. That’s what we’re designing a system to do.
And so really important that we have ways to know what data we have, but why do we have the data we have? And that’s what we’re trying to build as resources, very simply, a Google Sheet to capture the why and then what are we going to do about it? Definitely has challenged a lot of assumptions, in we think we know why, till we actually go out and genuinely listen to those who experienced it. And Kim mentioned the idea of the student she called Jasmine, there could have been a lot of things that we believed why that fight occurred, but until we heard it from Jasmine, we had to challenge our assumptions. And definitely have been challenged, and we’re looking at our system from a whole new way, a different part of that elephant, in order to understand how we can improve it on behalf of our students.
Yes. We have a question here from Abigail Avila and she’s asking what method of communication you found to be successful in sharing the data findings and the solutions with people in the community? So maybe I’ll start with Kim, I’m hearing this Google Sheet and huddles with staff. Now at your high school, either with staff but also with families or students, are there different ways you communicate what you’ve learned from the data so that people know the what’s going on and what’s next?
Yes, absolutely. So not everybody has access to the Google Sheet because there is a lot of really confidential information there, but we do share our findings with many people. So, with my site leadership team, every month when we have our meeting, we share out discipline data from prior years versus this year, and not only just the data, but what we’ve been doing with the data. Because we have so much data, we want to look at the high leverage data that we really want to impact change with. And so we do have very routinized ways in order to share data and to also share the change, because data doesn’t really mean anything if we’re not tying something to an improvement. And so that’s been really, really important for us. As far as the students, we have, with the safety pilot, we have a campaign that we have shared with the students called, Safety is Everyone’s Business.
And so, one thing that we have been trying to do is to find better ways for students to know how to report pre-fight or fight behavior. And so we have developed this campaign to share with them, we have shared it out via email, we had their third period teacher talk about it. We created just a cute little slideshow, three or four slides. And so that’s a way that we’re trying to connect with them. Additionally, focus groups, that is a really great way to kind of share data that we have, that is meaningful to them.
Thanks a lot. I want to ask the same question of Mayra. For you, you’re on a lot of committees, so you know a lot about the processes and the whole system now. So maybe for you then, and you now, or maybe for other parents, what are good ways to receive data, to understand the data that have been collected, in what formats, in what meetings, how do you like that?
Well, at Azusa Unified, there was various ways. We had a printed out presentation. We had a digital presentation that was created from the data that was gathered. And at some place, at the school site council, at the ELAC meeting, they would present this information to the parents. But then also we got to present it at our schools, at our sites. I was actually asked by my principals to report and present to parents. So that was very interesting, it was fun, I loved it. And they got to ask me questions and I was able to answer, but there was just so many ways of getting the information out that it was accessible for everybody. So, I love that we had so many ways of getting the information.
Yeah, that’s great. Parent leadership, making presentations, makes me feel nervous, like I feel right now. Dr. Bryant, did you have anything to add to that?
Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant:
No, I think Mayra really said it all. We just tried to go from as many avenues as possible, whether it’s a video or one-pagers or anything like that, everything’s always in multiple languages so that it’s accessible. Our PAC Plus meetings are bilingual, there’s always interpretation available. Language should never be a barrier for our parents and families to engage in decision making and supporting their students, and making sure we create this sense of equity, no matter what issues might be facing parents as they try to come and engage in our school.
Yeah. I’m just going to ask one more question and then I’m going to come around to everyone after this and ask you to either share one key takeaway idea or what’s next for you in this journey. But another question we received is from Ryan Miskell, and that person would love to hear about community groups that had difficult times taking part in the initially planned opportunities, or how do you identify groups that you haven’t been able to engage and make the process more accessible or bring them in? I will let anyone start on this one.
Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant:
I think one of the things you want to do is, again, I go back to Hemet as a great example, let’s get to the root cause. We need to talk to those groups, people who represent those groups and really understand what is keeping them from being involved. And so then, and only then, once you have that root cause, begin to address and do things differently and engage those groups in the solution. Don’t solve it for them, but rather engage them in creating a solution and being willing to look at those differences. Looking at, for example, your equity. At one point we looked at our PAC Plus and we had a couple of ethnic groups in Azusa that were very, very small, less than 1%. And we had to ask ourselves, “Wait a minute, we think we’re being equitable, but are those voices at the table? Why not? And what do we need to do?” And we made some changes to ensure that every single group that represents our students and our community is represented at the table in the PAC Plus.
Dr. Jennifer Martin:
For Hemet Unified, and I think this is something that we all need just to keep perspective on, is not only do we want to capture the voices of those we haven’t heard from, to make sure we have full perspective, seeing the full elephant in our image that we shared, is that when you get someone in front of you to actually be able to talk to them, that you’ve set a stage that is built on trust and transparency. We had a pilot that we did around improvement a couple years ago, and everything is a learning opportunity, but we wanted to find out why students weren’t coming to school. And what we heard from some of our parents in interviewing them was that they needed transportation. And we have a pretty major transportation department in Hemet Unified, we’re very blessed.
We decided we were going to pilot a door to door busing for every student in three schools, a feeder pattern in elementary and middle and high school. And we did it for one semester. And do you know how much our attendance improved at those schools? Zero. And at one school, it got worse. But what we didn’t do was take time to truly listen, to understand, to build trust, to get to root cause as to why. Parents are saying, “We need help with transportation.” But what we realized is our kids weren’t even safe enough to leave their door to get onto that bus. And there were other reasons why getting to school was an issue that wasn’t just merely putting a bus in front of their door.
I would move heaven and earth to make sure that we are getting all voices, but making sure that when you’re actually capturing voices, that it’s built on a foundation of trust and transparency and that you’re truly listening, checking your assumptions, truly listening and trying to understand the perspective of the person that you’re engaging with. And so we have been very thankful for the leadership at Hemet High School, and when they’re interviewing parents, students, or staff on why is this happening, we really are working on our ability to come in not knowing the answer, but to seek to understand and use what they’re sharing with us as an opportunity to improve. And so just thankful for the opportunity to try out what that means but knowing that as soon as you do get those voices, honor them and allow it to be built on trust and transparency.
Thank you so much for that. All right, let us transition to a closing thought. I’ll start with Kim. So I’m going to give you two choices, you can either share with us what is your next step in this journey or a key idea that you want us to leave here holding on to.
Okay. I think I’ll take the latter, and really the key takeaway would be working with those closest to the problem. I was just supervising lunch a couple of days ago, and one of the team members that we asked to be on our pilot team, his name is Randy, he’s a campus supervisor, and he’s been here for five years. And I was just asking how he was doing, and he said, “You know what, Kim?” He said, “I have never felt so valued here.” He said, “I actually feel like people care about what I think.” And it was really, really great, and then he went on to say that he hasn’t felt so safe in five years. And so it’s not that we are doing something as an admin team, that we are including those closest to the problem and they understand that safety is an absolute priority for everything else to operate effectively. And so that would be my key takeaway.
Thank you so much. I’m going to turn to Dr. Bryant.
Dr. Jennifer Edic Bryant:
Yes. I think Azusa is, of course, continuing those cycles of improvement, continuing to try to grow their engagement of families, parents, staff, and students. And I continue to use those continuous cycles of improvement in data and relationships to help districts across California, as I work across the state now and in particular, working with community engagement initiative, which is really focused heavily across the state, with effectively engaging parents and families and the entire community in helping schools be successful. I think when we’re improving, we’re talking about data and my stance and what I tend to repeat often, is just this idea that data is just data. We can look at it, we can do whatever, but the power of data is what we do with it, is what we can do with it. And so helping our schools do that is one of my greatest passions.
Thank you. I’ll turn to your colleague, Mayra. Mayra, what’s your message that we should hear, or what’s your next step in this work?
Well, my key takeaway is that educating and engaging parents makes them your strongest allies. When you’re part of the team, you share the responsibility of the success of the district, and in the end, it benefits not only your students, but also the whole community. Parent engagement is also never ending. We have parents that are ending their journey and other parents that are beginning. So it’s really important that the district continues to always work hard to make sure that they have those relationships with our parents and our community. Thank you.
Yes, thank you so much, Mayra. And let’s end with who we started with, Dr. Martin.
Dr. Jennifer Martin:
All right. Well, thank you again for being able to share a little bit about Hemet’s improvement journey. We have a long way to go, but we’re really excited that we’re making sure that we’re doing right by our students and our staff and our community, by making sure they’re involved in this process. But I would say where is it going next? We definitely are applying these improvement principles and seeking to understand in other areas in which continue to have systematic needs. And so chronic absentees is one of those. We talked a little bit about the bus pilot, I shared a moment, that was a couple years ago, and that was surface level. We look back and were like, “We were solving for poop. We need to get our lighting issue.”
So, trying to build a coalition to help to understand chronic absenteeism, is going to be individualized, and so setting up a system to understand really genuinely why, what are the barriers, why is a student not at school, and how can we refine our system to ensure that every student has access to school, is definitely where we’re starting to shift a lot of our efforts and focus. And so just very grateful for the opportunity, like I said, share a little bit about this work and partner with Azusa, so thank you.
Thank you so much. We’re getting lots of props in the chat for Mayra, for your comments. Thank you. And I really want to thank our four panelists, from Azusa Unified School District and Hemet Unified School District, your work, your passion, your examples, your outcomes are an inspiration, and all of your resources are shared in the link tree in the chat, websites, handouts. And we look forward to seeing what happens in the future with all of you. Thank you.