Case Study: Ferris ISD
Starting the Speak Up Journey in Ferris ISD
Lydia Croupe, Instructional Technology Coordinator, was no stranger to using surveys as a way of capturing the voice of students and teachers. In her previous position at a large Texas school district, Lydia saw how beneficial it was to collect survey data and incorporate the findings into decision making and program development. The solutions she used; however, came with a high price tag. Ferris Independent School District (ISD) did not have the budget to purchase a commercial product, so Lydia started to look for alternatives.
At a Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA ) meeting, Lydia heard about Speak Up and immediately realized that this could be a powerful tool in identifying the needs and challenges in Ferris ISD. “Speak Up not only offered an opportunity to learn about the views of students, teachers, parents, and administrators, but it was also free. It did not take us long to decide that Speak Up was the solution for us,” Lydia explained.
Lydia had clear goals in deciding to use Speak Up in the district. First, she wanted to get a better sense of what students and teachers needed. “We wanted the data to help inform our plans. Without that data there was no clear pathway to developing new programs and modifying existing ones,” Lydia noted.
Another goal was to demonstrate the value of instructional technology in creating engaging and effective learning experiences. The department that Lydia heads is a newly created one. “The survey shows what the department is doing to improve learning for students and help teachers. I want to be able to answer the question of why the department exists and what it is doing to support both teaching and learning,” Lydia added.
Customizing the Surveys
During her first year at Ferris ISD, the district administered a generic survey. Now in her second year, Lydia made the decision to work with the Speak Up team in developing a semi-customized set of surveys focusing on the specific needs of the district. For example, Lydia wanted to know more about how and why the libraries were used, so relevant questions were added to the surveys. Questions on one-to-one use were eliminated since the program was already in place. There was frequent collaboration with the Speak Up team as the surveys were developed. The customized surveys opened in November 2022 and is continuing through the spring with the goal of reviewing and analyzing the data before the end of the school year and using it to inform program planning for the 2023-24 school year.
Launching the Surveys
Lydia launched the surveys with outreach to principals and counselors to gain their support. To start the process, Lydia set up meetings with the principals, and created videos for them to use with teachers and students. “Taking directly with the principals and getting their commitment is critical,” Lydia noted. “I explained the importance of having a voice, knowing what students are saying, and creating learning opportunities for teachers. Once we have this information, we can work to improve the way the system is supporting them.”
Seeing the Results: It takes time.
In the short time that Lydia has been in the district, there have been some positive results impacting the way the district is delivering professional development. The Speak Up survey indicated how teachers like to learn so more and different options are now being offered for their professional development. “It is important for teachers to see that we are listening to them and taking their views to heart. The real danger is if we ignore the survey findings,” Lydia observed.
The survey is also providing valuable information about the availability of home internet for students. According to the survey, students do have internet at home, but it is essential to learn more about the types of devices and how they are used, the reliability of the bandwidth, and the extent to which devices are shared. The level of connectivity is key, particularly in a district serving rural areas.
“It takes time to see results,” Lydia cautioned. “From my experience, I know that change doesn’t happen quickly. At Ferris we are just beginning the journey. We have a vision of where we want to go based on what our stakeholders are telling us in the Speak Up surveys. We need to support the vision and understand that it will take time. We are seeing progress but need to think more in terms of five years than a year to realize change.”
Using Speak Up for Advocacy
Lydia is active in TCEA serving as Director of Area 10 and the Educational Service Centers in that region. In that role, she is involved with advocacy efforts in support of education reaching out to see what type of support members need, helping them to connect with TCEA and be more involved in the policy discussions. Last legislative session, Lydia worked through TCEA focusing on the policy implications of online learning; this session she is monitoring activities to see if Texas will require specialized certification for teachers who will be teaching online. Lydia shares her knowledge of Speak Up and its power with the TCEA network and is excited about being part of the larger policy conversation.
“I love what Speak Up is doing and urge more districts to become involved and administer the survey in their district. Speak Up is providing all schools and districts the chance to be heard and make meaningful changes based on the voice of their stakeholders. As a free tool, Speak Up promotes equity and ensures all schools and districts have this opportunity, not only those that have the budget to purchase expensive solutions. It was particularly thrilling for Ferris ISD to have one of its students participate in the 2022 Congressional briefing. Imagine a student from our small district in Texas sharing his views with national policymakers. That was an empowering moment – and one that I will always remember,” Lydia concluded.