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Survey results shape changes in Wauwatosa schools

Sept. 3, 2014

A school administrator might feel anxious before reading the results of a "school perceptions survey" conducted by parents, but Superintendent Phil Ertl of Wauwatosa School District said he was pleasantly surprised. People had nice things to say.

Ninety-percent or more of the responses indicated that parents are satisfied with bullying prevention, school safety, technology in the classroom and the attraction of quality teachers.

But there are always areas of improvement.

Results showed an increased need for the district to retain high quality teachers, improve food options at lunch and streamline communication with parents.

Food service was the lowest performing area on the survey, with only 61 percent of parents saying, "I am satisfied with the food options provided at lunch."

Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions, the third party organization that curated the survey results, said this is a common result in districts.

"Food is one of those things where you'll never make everybody happy," said Foster at a July school board meeting.

In a district with roughly 7,000 students, about 1,300 district parents completed the survey in the spring. Almost 50 percent have lived in the district more than 10 years and about 75 percent have volunteered at school within the last year, results showed.

"That's just about the highest we've seen," said Foster of the volunteer rate at July's meeting.

The survey will serve as a "baseline" of parental opinion for the district to implement change.

"The district cannot do everything at once. We provide the things to focus on," said Foster.

Some improvements are already in queue.

Nutrition solutions

In response to comments that said lunchroom management was questionable and that cafeterias serve too much processed foods, a Sodexo chef will soon oversee all school food programs for the 2014-15 school year.

The chef will manage all school menus and ensure high food quality. It is relatively uncommon for a chef to oversee a district program and it is a brand new concept for Wauwatosa, said De Gitzlaff, Sodexo food service manager.

Sodexo will also be partnering with Cornell University Food and Brand Lab to study the way students take, eat and enjoy foods, according to a news release. The result will be a "smarter lunchroom" based on healthy eating choices.

To assist with healthy eating, more locally-grown produce will be served at meal time. Elementary schools also will be able to cook in their own kitchens.

Gitzlaff declined further comment on the new food programs until a later date.

Streamlined communication

Adminstrators also are taking note of the most efficient way to communicate with parents.

Seventy-four percent of parents said that Blackboard email messages were the best way for the district to communicate with the household. Ninety-four percent of parents said they use email as a communication tool and 84 percent said the weekly school and district email is their primary source of information.

"Everyone has a different want or need for communciation. Some people don't have electronic access, and we're taking that into consideration," said Ertl. "It was more favorable toward electronic communication than I thought it would be."

The district launched a Wauwatosa School District app for iPhone and Android this summer and posted a note on how to use the district website recently.

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