When it comes to strategic planning, school district leaders know they must involve all stakeholder groups from the beginning. Though they are arguably the most important stakeholder group, students are sometimes overlooked in the planning process.

But now, especially because the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires school systems to factor nonacademic indicators such as student engagement into their accountability plans, many school districts are going directly to students and encouraging them to share their honest opinions about their educational experiences.

Many school leaders are finding that when they listen to student voice, student engagement and achievement improves. Dr. Michael Daria, superintendent of Alabama’s Tuscaloosa City Schools (TCS), said his district used feedback from a student survey to inform planning and instructional processes.

District leaders knew they wanted to stay true to their mission of serving all students, but they also wanted to know more about those students, their experiences, and how they felt the district was truly serving them.

“Our goal is always all students, but we’re a district where all students are not highly successful,” Daria said during a K12 Insight webinar on student voice. “Part of this work was to make sure the decisions we’re making for our students are wise decisions and that they’re meaningful for students. We wanted to affirm where we are with student engagement–what does it mean to be a student in the district, what is that experience, and does that experience match the experience we believe we’re providing for our students?”

And in order to do that, they had to go directly to the source–the students themselves.

(Next page: How the district turned student voice into new policies)


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