Rod Aydelotte

About 70 percent of parents, employees and students think the overall quality of Waco Independent School District is either excellent or good, according to a recent superintendent entry plan survey.

Preliminary highlights of the survey were reviewed at a special school board meeting Saturday morning. The results touched on safety in the district, how committed to excellence in education the district is, whether the district is a good steward of taxpayer money and more.

More than 3,400 adults and sixth- through 12th-grade students took the survey Sept. 6 through Sept. 20. Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson and other district officials will discuss the results and ongoing challenges more in-depth with residents over the next 45 days by setting up community meetings, Nelson said Saturday.

Nelson started in June and wants to develop a stronger culture of communication within the district, he said.

“For the record, our transition into the district has gone extremely well, and it’s been extremely hectic and busy,” Nelson said. “But I feel like it was almost kind of hard to talk about developing an entry plan because we already entered. Having said that, we really are trying to listen to our stakeholders and get feedback.”

Not all of those surveyed answered every question, but Nelson said it was interesting to see the difference in perception between adults and the students who took the survey.

“The nature of the survey is that it’s designed to hear from as many people as possible, and it was open to anyone who wanted to participate,” Waco ISD spokesman Kyle DeBeer said. “The result is that we end up with a sample that’s not necessarily scientifically representative of the community as a whole. You’re hearing more from this survey from people who have a relationship — parents, employees, students — than from people who may not be as closely connected to the district.”

Currently, Waco ISD has about 15,000 students, of which more than 80 percent are economically disadvantaged. The district also has six campuses on the state’s improvement required list that have failed stated accountability ratings for more than four consecutive years.

Of the 2,135 adults and 1,371 students who answered how they would rate the overall quality of the district, 67 percent of adults said the quality was excellent or good, while 73 percent of students gave the same rating. The rest considered the district to be of fair or poor quality, according to the results.

About 70 percent of the 2,133 adults and 1,371 students either strongly agreed or agreed Waco ISD is committed to its mission statement: “The district shall ensure innovation and excellence in education to prepare all learners for productive engagement in a global society.” Nelson said that figure showed there is still room to improve.

On a similar note, only 52 percent of 2,131 adults strongly agreed or agreed students were prepared for success beyond high school though Waco ISD, while 72 percent of 1,354 students felt the same. About 52 percent of students and adults felt undecided overall, according to the results.

“More than likely, you see a parent saying, ‘I want my son to grow up to be a doctor,’ and the student says, ‘I want to be an engineer,’” board member Norman Manning said. “It’s interesting to see the different perceptions of what a parent wants for their child and what the child wants for themselves.”

And 59 percent of 2,128 adults and 43 percent of 1,359 students feel the district uses taxpayer dollars wisely, while 28 percent of the adults and 43 percent of the students were undecided.

“It’s notable the survey was conducted almost immediately after the board adopted the budget and the tax rate,” Nelson said. “This reflects the community’s views at a time when the public was paying closer attention to the district’s finances.”

Seventy-eight percent of 2,128 adults and 69 percent of 1,351 students also either strongly agreed or agreed Waco ISD provides a safe environment for students. But 20 percent of students and 13 percent of adults felt undecided, the survey stated.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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