Jon Sasser, director of community engagement, said Westlake Academy sent out three different surveys over the end of the summer prior to the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. Sasser went over the surveys and the results during the Oct. 9 Town Council meeting.

Sasser noted Mayor Sean Kilbride suggested the surveys for Westlake Academy to have a further understanding of how things are working, or not, at the school.

“We had 272 people respond, which was a great way to really get a sense of the things that we’re dealing with and what we’re doing right and what we can improve on and so forth,” Sasser said.

The details

Westlake Academy is an International Baccalaureate school. According to the International Baccalaureate website, IB is an organization that offers a continuum of international education through four challenging, high-quality educational programs to students ages 3-19. They include:
  • Primary Years Programme: develops caring and culturally aware children ages 3-12 to become active participants in their own learning
  • Middle Years Programme: develops students’ confidence, between ages 11-16, in managing their own learning and making connections between their learning in the classroom and the real world
  • Diploma Programme: a future-ready program that builds students’ inquiring mindset, fosters their desire to learn, and prepares them to excel at their careers and lead meaningful lives
  • Career-related Programme: a unique program for students in their final school years that equips them with future-ready skills and prepares them to follow their career pathways
What you need to know

The Town Council went over the first survey, which went to the parents of current students. The survey asked why they picked Westlake Academy for their child. The majority of respondents said because of its excellence in academics and the school's reputation. Only four respondents said they picked Westlake Academy because of the school’s level of college preparedness.

Sasser said students and parents felt college preparedness wasn’t originally a high priority. Once the student got to the Academy, college preparedness became “a very important thing” for both the parents and the students.

The survey asked the parents how they thought the school should improve the experience for their child.
  • 33 people said the school should expand athletics, classes and extracurricular activities.
  • 18 people said the school should improve communication.
“They wanted better communication between teachers and parents about student progress and assignments,” Sasser said. “Another aspect was better communication, that they wanted it all in one space, and then the third [category of communication] was overall transparency.”

The survey asked if the parents could leave feedback on their own personal interactions with staff and counselors. The survey showed 146 people said they had a positive experience, and used words like “warm and caring and very supportive,” Sasser said. Eighteen people said they had minimal interactions with staff and counselors, but their interactions were still positive.

“Only 27 responses were negative,” he said. “Their criticisms, where they felt that they were disregarded in their concerns and better communication from teachers, were some of the about highlights from that.”

A closer look

The second survey went to the alumni from 2020 to 2023, looking at what the alumni gained from their experience at Westlake Academy, and 42% said they gained positive relationships, 25% said they gained college preparedness, and 33% said they gained better writing skills.

“I can specifically recall during the IB diploma ceremonies when the graduates, who are now freshmen in college, would come back and speak to the rising seniors,” Sasser said. “One thing they would overwhelmingly say was, compared to our contemporaries and our classmates, we blow them away in writing. That seems to be still the case here with this survey for our alumni.”

The survey then asked what the alumni would have changed about Westlake Academy.
  • 25% of the respondents said they would have added a wider variety of classes.
  • 17% of them said they would have addressed mental health more.
Another viewpoint

The Town Council then went over the final survey, which was sent out to the parents of former students for the 2022-23 school year who left for reasons other than graduation.

The survey, like the one for parents of current students, asked why parents chose Westlake Academy. Unlike the first survey, the majority of responses said they chose the school for the IB education, followed by the class sizes and academic reputation.

When asked why they left Westlake Academy, 13 responses said they left because of other opportunities, 12 responses said they left because of COVID-19-related issues, and 11 responses said they left because of a lack of staff support.

The takeaway

Sasser said Westlake’s response to these surveys is to send them to the leadership team and the board of trustees for analysis. Once the surveys are further analyzed, they can determine what can be done to improve the concerns. It can also help analyze why families left and what can be done to reduce that number moving forward.

Sasser said one of the recommendations for improving Westlake Academy is to perform exit interviews with each family and graduating student. It’s also a better way to compile and track answers, he said. The “most important thing” is it also allows them to act faster, have real-time conversations with a family who left, and they “can help solve that problem” faster, he said.

Mayor Pro Tem David Quint said doing these surveys was “extremely helpful” for Westlake Academy, the town and the Town Council.

“[Conducting exit interviews is] something we should really think about doing and trying to better understand why people are leaving, why they are staying, [and] how we can improve,” Quint said. “This goes hand-in-hand with some of the academic issues we’ve talked about recently. So I think there’s a good opportunity, don’t let this go to waste, and let’s really think about how we make use of this data.”