1. Gradebook

Why don’t more parents choose neighborhood schools? Academics, according to Pinellas survey

The Pinellas County school district wanted to know what parents desired in a school and how it could better communicate information, so it commissioned an $18,460 survey.

Survey says: strong academic performance above all and an email from a teacher is fine.

The University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Laboratory released its report on the survey findings Tuesday. Out of 4,482 calls to working lines, 27.4% of parents responded over a five-day window in December.

Melanie Marquez Parra, the district of the district's communications office, said the district will look at websites, printed materials and other resources that can be improved to better support schools and communicate with families.

“There’s been an annual marketing plan to help families be familiar with all of the choice programs,” Parra said. “There hasn’t been a similar effort…to help families be familiar with neighborhood schools.”

Operators randomly selected parents with students currently enrolled in a Pinellas public school and those with students in a non-public school. The survey also specifically sampled parents in the City of Dunedin, which has a "cluster of schools there with the potential to grow."

The district gauged parents on satisfaction with their own school (whether it be a neighborhood school, magnet, charter or private), the district's overall performance, factors that went into school choice, school concerns, communication preferences and what would need to change for their neighborhood school to become their first choice.

Those who were most satisfied with their school? Charter school parents. Those who are the most pleased with the district? Neighborhood and magnet/choice school parents.

More than half of parents who sent their kids to a non-public school viewed the district as fair or poor on performance. The vast majority of those parents said their private school was excellent and good.

Neighborhood school parents valued distance and proximity the most, with academic performance as second-most important. All other parents said academic performance influenced their school choice the most.

And yet, those who chose a school other than their neighborhood school did their homework. More than two-thirds of charter and private school families visited their zoned school before passing it up. That figure was 54 percent for magnet/choice families.

Why did they pass on the neighborhood school? Magnet parents wanted specialty programs, charter parents worried about class size and academic performance and private school parents worried about behavior. Many also said a friendly front office staff signals a welcoming school environment.

Around 21 to 28 percent of parents surveyed said they had concerns about their child's current school. Their No. 1 answer was safety.

As for Dunedin parents, the majority said it would not affect their school choice if their neighborhood school had a greater emphasis on the Scottish tradition. Distance/proximity was their top factor in selecting a school, followed by academic performance.

Parra said her office will look at emphasizing schools' academic performance on communication and marketing materials and look at the school tour experience.

Read the full results here.