Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm
Slinger company helps schools improve by collecting input from stakeholders
By Katherine Michalets, of SBT
"Measuring What Matters" is not only the slogan for School Perceptions Inc., a company that creates and manufactures surveying software, it is the company’s passion.
The Slinger-based company provides online surveys that enable schools to identify and evaluate educational priorities.
Company president Bill Foster started School Perceptions after creating and teaching a product development program at Homestead High School in Mequon.
That experience convinced Foster that he could make a difference. Foster received the school’s Excellence in Education Award in 2001.
Fueled by a desire to help schools, Foster launched School Perceptions in September 2002.
"You can be critical or you can get in the game and help," Foster said.
Foster believes schools can be improved by focusing on suggestions, ideas and evaluations from teachers, students and parents.
"There are other things that we can do to improve our schools. There is too much focus on test scores," Foster said.
School Perceptions’ surveys are all done online, resulting in a much quicker turnaround process of 10 to 14 days, compared with traditional paper survey processes used by many firms.
The first survey that School Perceptions designed was the Critical Issues Assessment, to help schools and school districts determine their critical issues and prioritize possible solutions.
Some of the 15 areas addressed in the Critical Issues Assessment survey are alcohol and drugs, communication, physical safety, self-esteem, teacher empowerment, staff development and parental involvement.
When developing the surveying software, Foster analyzed bodies of research on education and incorporated what he learned into his software.
Students, parents, support staff, administration and community members receive postcards inviting them to participate. The postcards include passwords to enter the online survey.
The analyzed data is presented in graphs and other easy-to-read formats. The software produces two kinds of data: quantitative and qualitative. Demonstration surveys are available via the company’s Web site, www.schoolperceptions.com.
"We are measuring schools not on the output of the school system, but on the inputs, which are under control," Foster said.
School Perceptions’ five full-time employees and one part-time employee have been busy creating a suite of surveying software products. The suite includes the Budget Advisor, a program to help school districts determine what programs and services are least and most important to its community before they make a budget decision.
According to Foster the program enables a school district to obtain the answers it needs to questions such as, "What do we need to cut and what is the process to go about determining what to cut?"
The company also provides a Post-Graduate Survey to help schools determine how graduates evaluate the school.
The firm also recently launched its health and growth assessment for churches.
In January, a sister company, College Perceptions, will run two pilot tests. College Perceptions will provide ways for colleges to identify what students value academically and socially.
In the past 13 months, School Perceptions has completed surveys for 10 school districts and is working with 10 others.
Several educators have embraced the company’s performance with words of endorsement on the firm’s Web site.
"For the foreseeable future, tighter state budgets and testing mandates at the state and federal level strain our district and school resources. During these times, it is more important than ever to have a clear picture of what students and parents value in their educational experience, wrote Bob Davidovich, principal at Cushing Elementary School in the Kettle Moraine School District. "The School Perceptions survey has been an extremely valuable tool that gives us the opportunity to efficiently address issues, as opposed to spending lots of time trying to figure out what our key issues are. It also gives us a solid baseline for measuring our improvement over time."
Most of the company’s clients have been school districts in Wisconsin, but Foster hopes to eventually expand the program nationally.
For a school district, School Perceptions’ basic survey starts at $2,000.
"We have just gotten a phenomenal response from the education community. It’s a pretty tight-knit group, and I feel that we’re developing a pretty good relationship already," Foster said.
School Perceptions recently made a presentation of its surveying products to a conference held by the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators in Green Bay. Afterward, School Perceptions had 43 inquiries for more information, he said.
Future plans for the company include developing a suite of software products for nonprofit organizations to gather, analyze and present data.
"We just have a passion to help the schools improve," said Foster. "It’s a love for our kids. They’re our future."
Nov. 28, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee