Cambridge-Isanti High School gains from surveying seniors, graduates

Joe Nathan
ECM Contributing Writer

Many Minnesota public schools wisely recognize the value of surveying graduates, and seniors about to graduate. Recently I contacted about 35 Minnesota districts and five charter public schools. Twenty-six responded. Just under half do these surveys. But in every case, where it’s done, school officials are gaining useful information.

Some years ago our center produced a report with five national evaluation experts. That report concluded that surveying graduates and reporting results was a key part of a school’s annual evaluation plan.

Mitch Clausen, principal of Cambridge-Isanti High School, pointed out that the school does an exit interview with each senior, and sends out surveys to graduates. Parents are included in the exit interview. Clausen wrote, “Here are three things we changed or are changing because of interviews and surveys:”

1.  We added a full day college fair so that our 9-12 can meet with colleges early in the year.

2.  We added financial aid night for parents and students.

3.  We continue to add College in the School classes to help students gain college credit free to them.”

Steve Massey, Forest Lake High School principal reported, “We survey seniors at the end of the year to gather information on their plans after graduation. Our Perkins program surveys graduates during their first year after graduation. The intent of both of these surveys is to gather post-secondary plan data.Based on this information, we have implemented the following:

a. A final’s schedule.

b. More Advanced Placement and CIS courses.

c. A senior picnic on seniors’ last day of school.”

Shannon Peterson of Lakes International Charter in Forest Lake explained, “We’ve only recently started surveying our graduates. We did so this year as part of a self-evaluation process to renew our IB authorization. Based on their feedback about “language ambassadors” being one of the most positive aspects of their experiences at LILA, the PTO voted to authorize hiring additional language ambassadors for next year. Our language ambassador program brings young education majors or recent ed. grads from target-language countries to work as assistants and language/culture models in the classroom. They get paid a stipend by the PTO, and stay with host families for the year.”

Rosemount High School Principal John Wollersheim wrote, “We survey our graduates every year. We use this information to track college access for our students.  Additionally, the most concrete thing we use as a result of the survey is the section where the students thank teachers.  Because “Gratitude” is one of our monthly themes—we’ve constructed opportunities for students (to) thank specific teachers. We integrate those responses into staff development days and it always sets a great tone for the day.”

Tom Nelson, West St. Paul superintendent reported: “Our district did survey our seniors this past year. The results of this short survey did lead to a more comprehensive checklist for seniors that focuses on the college application process and their preparing for the next steps in their future. Guidance folks went into each senior classroom and walked through the checklist (“Options Beyond High School”) guide that was assembled by our staff.”

Duane Berkas, Director of Teaching and Learning, Columbia Heights Public Schools told me that the district “has begun tracking its alumni in college through the National Student Clearinghouse. This data is helpful in getting an accurate read on how many of our students are enrolling and completing college. In addition, we are working on maintaining communication with alumni through Facebook and targeted email campaigns.  We find that students and staff are very interested in hearing from our former students…One current project is a film that captures alumni responses to a series of questions on the degree they were prepared for college that can be shared with teachers and students.”

Schools cited above illustrate the value of checking with seniors and graduates. These young people are helping their schools identify what’s working well, and what needs attention.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota Public School teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions welcome, [email protected]