The Steamboat Springs School Board took the right step Monday night in deciding to move ahead with developing a survey to get feedback on school district issues.
But while a survey can be a helpful tool for the school board, it should not be used as an evaluation of or referendum on district Superintendent Cyndy Simms or any other school district personnel.
Citizens for Education pushed for the survey. Members of the group which used to be Parents for Dr. D, the group formed in the fall to support embattled Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis said a survey would give staff, parents and other district residents a forum to address concerns about their public schools. Such frustrations have surfaced in public meetings the board has held in recent months.
"There are a lot of people who have issues that you guys need to figure out a way to hear," Jim Swiggart, co-chairman of Citizens for Education, told the school board.
Such a survey is not new. The district conducted a similar survey in 1999 that was helpful in identifying specific issues that needed to be addressed. Because of that survey, the district reduced the number of committees in place after staff members raised concerns that the committees took precious time away from the classroom. The district also streamlined the collective bargaining process after survey results showed problems.
Currently, the board could benefit from staff and public feedback on such pressing issues as policy governance, class size, pay for performance and school board policies. The survey could be broken down by specific groups teachers, staff and parents, for example to give school board members even better data.
But the board must be careful in using the results. While a survey provides data that can and should be weighed in decision making, it is by no means a mandate. Governing by survey results is not governing at all.
Also, the survey should be about the operation and organization of the district, not individual personnel such as Simms, as some might suggest. Undoubtedly, issues relating to the leadership of the district will emerge in a survey.
That's fine. But opening the evaluation of Simms or other administrators to the public at large serves no constructive purpose.
The school board has been criticized in recent months for communication lapses and a perception that it is not responsive to the public.
The proposed survey is a good way to help address those concerns as long as the survey is conducted and used properly.