In May 2020, the New Hampshire Department of Education (NH DOE) asked stakeholders to complete a needs assessment survey to better understand statewide experiences with remote learning during spring 2020, and to hear from a broad range of perspectives on returning to school in the fall.
The state received an overwhelming response: 56,000 responses poured in from educators, parents, student wellness providers, and district and school leaders over the 5 days that the survey was open.
Needs assessment surveys can offer a crucial way for states to hear from a broad range of perspectives, build awareness of stakeholder views, and craft policies that address their concerns. NH DOE used this strategy as part of a broader effort to engage in a community-focused conversation about the future of school through the School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce (STRRT).
New Hampshire’s School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce (STRRT)
NH DOE created STRRT to develop return-to-school recommendations for fall 2020. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu released the state’s guidelines for reopening schools on July 14, 2020. The guidance was developed using recommendations from STRRT, NH DOE, and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
The Region 1 Comprehensive Center supported NH DOE by facilitating the STRRT meetings in May and June 2020 as well as codeveloping and analyzing the needs assessment survey data. STRRT is comprised of stakeholders representing six workgroups: Instruction, Operations, Technology, Student Wellness, Student Voice, and Associations. Region 1 Comprehensive Center staff facilitated three rounds of meetings for each of the six working groups as well as three STTRT meetings, which included two representatives from each of the six workgroups.
To ground and inform STRRT’s work, the Region 1 Comprehensive Center used a collaborative process with stakeholders from NH DOE and the six STTRT workgroups to develop four stakeholder needs assessment surveys for (1) district and school leaders, (2) educators, (3) student wellness providers, and (4) parents of students.
Region 1 Comprehensive Center staff shared a descriptive analysis of survey responses with STTRT members to inform the return-to-school recommendations and developed district-specific reports summarizing the findings for each district. Additional analyses of open-ended responses will be provided in August 2020.
Who is represented on STRRT?
STRRT is comprised of stakeholders representing six workgroups: Instruction, Operations, Technology, Student Wellness, Student Voice, and Associations. View a full list of workgroup participants.
What Did Stakeholders Say?
Initial analysis of the needs assessment survey responses highlighted a common tension between a desire to return to in-person school and overall concerns about safety in doing so. Although a strong majority of respondents are willing to return to in-person instruction, a lower percentage of parents (69%) agreed they would send their child back to school, while 79% of instructional staff agreed they were likely to return to the classroom (with slightly higher percentages for leaders and wellness providers). However, when asked about concern for student safety in returning to school, the majority of stakeholders expressed concerns.
*Note: “Agree” is a combination of the “agree” and “strongly agree” response categories.
Part of these concerns are likely due to whether students can successfully follow safety guidelines, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. When asked about students’ ability to maintain social distancing restrictions if schools reopen, a majority felt that students would struggle in this area. A higher percentage of parents (23%) agreed that students would be able to maintain social distancing, avoid groups and physical contact, and follow other safety protocols, when compared with instructional staff (9%) and leaders (13%).
The needs assessment survey also asked school leaders and student wellness providers about their access to personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., thermometers, isolation space, masks, face shields, gowns, cleaning supplies) that are needed to do their job safely. Only 35% of school leaders and 25% of student wellness providers agreed they had access to the required PPE.
Despite potential concerns about student safety in returning to in-person school, stakeholders saw a trade-off with increased stress and anxiety associated with distance learning approaches. Less than a quarter of respondents across all categories agreed that remote learning was reducing stress and anxiety levels for students.
To view the full survey responses for each stakeholder group, visit the STTRT page.
What Are We Learning So Far?
The large response from New Hampshire’s stakeholders suggests that efforts to reopen schools in the wake of COVID-19 can benefit from creating multiple, virtual opportunities to engage with a wide range of voices and perspectives. As Region 1 Comprehensive Center’s codirector, Ellen Cushing, reflected on the work, she noted the rare opportunity the COVID-19 pandemic has created—a widely shared experience, but one lived out in extended isolation: “COVID-19 school closures and the abrupt shift to remote learning are only one of many dimensions to this widely shared experience; however, the scale of disruption to both the education system itself, and to the daily lives of all educators, students, and caregivers, has generated a range of deeply felt responses—from frustration with the challenges of remote learning, to deeper appreciation for educators and schools, to a new openness to re-imagining what education could look like in the future.”
As policymakers plot a path forward for school this fall, New Hampshire’s experience suggests that states and districts could benefit by continuing to offer ongoing opportunities for stakeholders to share their experiences, offer their perspectives, and, whenever possible, directly inform policies under development. By seizing the moment created by this seismic shift, states and districts can tap into a much broader cross-section of stakeholders who are willing—even eager—to engage with policymakers.
For states or districts interested in using a similar needs assessment survey approach, please reach out and our team will be happy to share our instruments and advice on using the tool.