Focusing on student and parent feedback

The high school’s administrative team has been holding Focus Groups to learn what it is doing well, what it isn’t doing well, and any advice or ideas they have for improvements.
Posted on 11/03/2021
Students recently had the opportunity to learn of the various opportunities available to them at the Panther Clubs and Sports Fair.  By Gary Weckselblatt

When the bell rings to end a period at Quakertown Community High School on Monday, students will have five minutes to get to their next class. That’s two minutes more than they now have.

The change to begin the second marking period comes after both students and teachers expressed concern with members of the administration that three minutes was not enough time to transition.

The concerns were aired during Focus Groups, sessions held separately with students and parents in which the administration seeks feedback on what the school is doing well, is not doing well, and any advice or ideas for school leaders to consider to improve the school’s culture and/or climate. Student sessions are held during the Pride or Lunch period each month while parent meetings - five are expected to be held this school year - will be virtual. These discussions, rare at the high school level, provide opportunities for those from diverse backgrounds to have a voice in their school.

“We’re talking about making education meaningful,” Principal Mattias van ‘t Hoenderdaal said. “It’s good to know what the perceptions are out there. We value that input.”

A key element of the student meetings was having a diverse group to hear from. They included a student from the Upper Bucks County Technical School, band, choir, sports teams, AP/Honors, special education and students of color.

“It’s intentionally designed to capture all voices and not a select few,” Mr. V said.

Kevin Wang, a senior, said when he arrived for the September meeting, “I was like, ‘Wow, they did a good job of picking people.’ It was kind of awkward at first, then everybody had something to say, which was great.”

Assistant Principal Kim Finnerty, who created the framework for the Focus Groups, which usually include two principals at each meeting, said. “We’re there to listen and not justify what we do and why. We want to make sure we’re hearing our student and parent voices, anything with a theme, a commonality. Let’s keep doing things we’re doing well and reinforce that with our teachers, and improve on things we may not be doing well and share that as well.”

She said the Focus Groups are the result of the district’s Comprehensive Plan, which states: “By building relationships with students of all backgrounds we can create a community of learners where students feel safe, comfortable, supported and encouraged. … by elevating diverse perspectives, students will see themselves reflected in the curriculum and in the opportunities school provides, which we believe gives them the confidence to grow academically.”

Students have expressed their appreciation for the later start time and like “enthusiastic teachers,” Ms. Finnerty said. “They said teachers have been more understanding, ‘They push us, but they help us.’ ” On the other hand, some students expressed frustration with too much time on Canvas, the online platform. Students also want to see more promotion of non-dominant sports teams and clubs.

A common theme among parents, as well, was “dedicated, responsive teachers and counselors always available to parents,” Ms. Finnerty said.

The recent Panther Clubs and Sports Fair was well received by the school community as both parents and students noted the diverse opportunity of offerings for students.

Though Mr. V emailed each family about the Focus Groups, the administration would appreciate more parent voices at the next meeting. Interested parents may contact Ms. Finnerty at [email protected].

Dr. Michael Zackon, Supervisor of Secondary Programs, said “It’s inspiring to see the high school administrative team take these steps to provide students and parents a voice to influence the decision-making process in a positive way.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].
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