from Bill Hudson, head of school

Since 2015, I have invited parents each December to participate in the Net Promoter survey. The Net Promoter is a standard industry measure of customer experience. Respondents are asked to answer a fundamental question, using a 0-10 scale: How likely is it that you would recommend MPA to a friend or colleague? It was created by Frederick Reichheld, a top management consultant at Bain & Company, to predict customer loyalty and measure customer satisfaction. Although it is geared toward Fortune 500 companies and is not common in education, it has been a valuable tool for MPA.

Our school-wide score is 48 this year, a noticeable improvement over last year. Historically, MPA parents have given an average score of 58, including a high of 74 in 2020 and a low of 40 last year. Like many companies and institutions, MPA’s Net Promoter score took a hit after the pandemic, a reflection of the uncertainty as society grappled with the “new” normal.

Approximately 78% of MPA families participated in the survey this year (although the numbers are skewed a bit because families were invited to take it several times if they had students in multiple divisions.) According to the Net Promoter methodology, survey respondents are grouped into three categories: detractor, passive, or promoter, based on the simple question of how likely respondents would be to recommend the school to a friend or colleague.

The breakdown for MPA is as follows:

  • Detractors: Fifty-nine parents (representing 16%) gave a score between 0 and 6 and are considered detractors or “unhappy customers.”
  • Passives: Ninety-five parents, or 26%, are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers, giving the school a score of 7 or 8.
  • Promoters: Two hundred and eight parents, representing 57% of those participating in the survey, gave a score of 9 or 10 and are classified as “loyal enthusiasts.”

Last week, I wrote about our commitment to continuous improvement, which is in large part guided by our strategic plan, 2024ward. Continuous improvement also demands we listen to our parent community and take appropriate action. The results of the Net Promoter serve as a benchmark for how parents feel about the school and provide valuable information in the open-ended questions. The administrative team, faculty, and staff comb the results to glean critical insights for planning and continuous improvement.

This year, the top five areas of improvement are as follows:

  1. Affordability
  2. Diversity and Inclusive Environment
  3. Student Wellness
  4. Faculty and Staff Longevity and Tenure
  5. Student Support

The Board of Trustees and school leadership strive to keep an MPA education affordable and are committed to socio-economic diversity. In keeping with the fourth priority of our strategic plan, much progress has been made on affordability and institutional sustainability. And yet, the reality remains that tuition reflects that, like healthcare, the economic model for education is labor-intensive with very little margin for productivity increases. Over 80% of our budget is dedicated to faculty and staff compensation to provide individual attention and personalization. One important way we can help ensure affordability is by having a healthy enrollment, something we have made great progress on throughout the last five years and we rely on current parents to share their love for MPA within their networks.

Diversity and Inclusive Environment
Several comments in the open-ended questions criticized the school’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Some questioned whether our efforts to create an inclusive community overshadowed academic rigor. Others believe the school has become more politically liberal and “woke.” MPA is not immune to the prevailing winds of the larger society as it grapples with bias and inequity, and we will continue to strive to create a community where each student is seen, heard, and valued and is prepared to thrive in an increasingly diverse world. These are some of the ideals we were founded upon in 1982, and I maintain today that academic rigor can only be achieved when a school environment is inclusive of all learners.

Student Wellness
Some parents are concerned about the amount of homework given, the rigor of some classes, the focus on grades, and unrealistic expectations placed on students. The social, emotional, and mental health of our students is paramount to MPA. Faculty strive to achieve the right balance and are very sensitive to the stress and anxiety of their students. It is a serious issue, and we’ve increased counseling and are both adding and growing programs that foster wellness and wholeness.

Faculty and Staff Longevity and Tenure
We’ve had some long-serving and beloved faculty retire over the last few years, as well as some turnover in staffing and leadership that some parents find unsettling and concerning. A degree of attrition is to be expected in any institution and there is no specific or underlying reason behind our recent experience. At the same time, MPA is no exception to the greater movements of the larger workforce. A Gallup poll in July of 2023 found that over 80% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going across the board—at work and beyond. The third priority of 2024ward challenges is to ensure employee satisfaction, morale, and competitive compensation. Improvements have been made to our hiring protocol, and efforts are underway to ensure we offer competitive wages and benefits like other independent and public schools.

Student Support
MPA is currently engaged in a curriculum re-review process to ensure we prepare students for college success and beyond. As part of this process, academic departments research state and national standards and content-specific standards. At the same time, we are expanding our understanding and ability to meet the needs of neurodiverse learners. By harnessing advances in educational technology and small class sizes, teachers are increasingly able to challenge all learners whenever they are.

When asked what the school does well, there were 224 responses. Several key areas and broad themes emerged:

  1. Dedicated and Creative Teachers: The teachers are commended for their dedication, creativity, and ability to know each student individually. They actively reach out with both concerns and positive feedback.
  2. Community Engagement: The school excels in fostering a strong sense of community, making each child and family feel seen, valued, and included.
  3. Academic Rigor and Individualized Learning: The school provides a challenging yet individualized academic environment that emphasizes critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and deep understanding over rote memorization.
  4. Inclusivity: MPA is recognized for being inclusive and creating a safe and welcoming environment for students of diverse backgrounds and abilities.
  5. Arts and Music Programs: The school is praised for its excellent arts and music programs, providing students with unique learning opportunities and a well-rounded education.

Most experts in customer loyalty agree that a Net Promoter score between 30-70 is great. I am comfortable with a score of 48, especially as we emerge from a tumultuous few years marked by the pandemic, economic uncertainty, racial reckoning, and political discord. However, teachers, staff, administration, and board must genuinely listen to our community and take action.

While sometimes deeply painful, the feedback received in the survey is crucial for institutional growth and improvement. Change is not easy, and as humans, we long for stability but strive for improvement. I learned a long time ago that change and innovation mean that things are at first different, then better. However, most people want things to be better but not different. Whether an individual or an institution, humility and wisdom are necessary to truly grow and improve.

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