“All stages of research indicated support for the Senior School approach…” – Donna McPhail, Market Researcher
We were one year into our effort to establish a Senior School. Our Task Force had completed well over a hundred hours of research. We’d created a prototype. We had listened to thought-leader Grant Lichtman, the members of our Task Force, and the many educators from leading schools we had interviewed. And though we knew our model was rooted in the practices of North America’s leading schools, we also knew we needed to listen to local families, both current and prospective. It’s what they said that mattered.
In September 2018, we engaged an external agency to lead our market research. The effort began with a review of secondary research that related to education trends. This work affirmed our own. The primary research, with local families of students in grades 7 and 8, began that December. We hosted four focus groups of four to six participants, each at KCS: two with KCS parents and two with KCS students. In addition, we hosted five focus groups with non-KCS parents and students.
Participants began with an ice-breaker activity where they were asked what they valued in secondary schools. Answers were common among parents and students:
- Academic standards
- Programs and facilities
- Post-secondary admissions
- Variety of courses and learning
- Supportive teachers
- Positive environment, and
Interestingly, students, more than parents spoke about school environment, expressing their preference that it be energetic, friendly, supportive, and calm.
Parents and students were then given hints about features of our model through photos and text. The dialogue that followed was recorded and analyzed. The result? Overall, parents and students responded positively to our model and would like the core curriculum to be covered well. And they want more. They accepted that focus on a student’s passion would enhance their engagement in learning. They believed that exposing students to additional ideas and areas of learning would lead to more passions and greater engagement. External partners and experiential learning were recognized as powerful motivators for understanding. In addition, students notably appreciated the opportunity to explore their area of interest from multiple perspectives, as well as learning experiences that enhance self-confidence, self-motivation, leadership, collaboration, empathy, and engagement.
The KCS student participants went beyond expectations with one of the exercises. When asked to make a collage from text and photos provided, they added their own words to properly complete the task. Here is some of what they documented about their ideal secondary school:
- Creative energy
- Individuality and more
- Your place in the world
- Backed up by teachers who want you to succeed
- Important life skills and strategies taught!
- Ask questions?!!!
- Free to explore your interests and be as involved as you want in all areas
Our model provoked much dialogue. It also provoked questions. In addition to earning support, the exercise made clear that we needed to communicate the model and the process shaping it with care and clarity. The final market research report, 109 slides long, propelled us forward.