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Our View: Durango School District 9-R

Survey and election confirm our schools’ overall direction

A recently conducted accountability survey shows that most Durango School District 9-R parents think the district is doing a good job. That is welcome news, particularly in that its conclusions mirrored the recent school board election, in which the voters effectively chose to stay the course.

The survey was the work of the District Accountability Advisory Committee, a member of which presented the results to the 9-R board last week. It was conducted in February and March and included responses from 997 parents.

The survey is intended to measure the superintendent’s job performance and point to where improvements need to be made. The first point is irrelevant in that the current superintendent, Karen Cheser, did not start the job until July.

As to where improvements are needed, the district can take pride in its high marks. Everything in life can be improved upon and the district’s leaders should strive to do just that. But the survey shows few real problems.

The questions took the form of a positive statement about 9-R. Respondents were then asked whether they agreed, had no opinion or disagreed. Agreeing meant they approved of the district’s performance.

The lowest scores the district got were a couple in the 60% range. A number were in the 80s, with a few approaching 90%t. (For the complete results, see https://bit.ly/30ixovj.)

Those scores are remarkable. In an election, 60% is called a landslide. And people being what they are, it is almost impossible to get 90% agreement as to whether the sun is up.

Nonetheless, when asked if 9-R staff members “respond in a timely manner to me and are helpful in answering questions and concerns” 88.8% agreed. And 88.84% agreed that the district keeps them informed on “critical topics” and affords them “the opportunity to share my perspectives and opinions.”

Those are significant questions. Nothing so alienates or discourages people as the feeling of being ignored or dismissed.

Some of the lower scores seem tied to the pandemic response and are thus unlikely be repeated. Some of the others, however, do warrant a closer look. For example, only 63% said their students think they are prepared for the next level.

It is also instructive to see the results in light of the school board election. Erika Brown got roughly 65% – against two challengers – while the other two winners, Richard Petersen and Andrea Parmenter, each got approximately 67%. (In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson won the biggest landslide in modern history with 61% of the popular vote.)

The winners were opposed by three others running as a slate and campaigning on complaints about test scores and the promise – or threat – of change. While only Brown was an incumbent, that outcome has to be seen as an endorsement of 9-R’s current trajectory, not complete agreement with everything 9-R has ever done, but broad approval of the district’s current direction.

For any governing body that is about as good as it gets.