New program allows students to give feedback on their ESD experience

Katherine Mote

A new program has been recently introduced to help the administration understand a student’s positive and negative ESD experience and learn how the school could improve certain aspects of ESD for future classes: The Senior Exit Interviews.

Before graduation, Head of School David Baad and Head of Upper School Henry Heil will have interviewed every senior on campus. Heil presented the idea of the exit interviews to Baad.

“It was [Heil’s] idea and it’s something he’s been wanting to do at least for a couple of years but Covid-19 has gotten in the way,” Baad said. “He came to me early this fall and said [if there was] a way we could do them just as a way to collect information and find out about the seniors’ experience.”

ESD is not the only school conducting these interviews. Exit interviews have become popular in high school administrations around the country as a way to get an inside view of the high school experience and as a way to have a candid conversation with the administration to create change. Recently, the idea of these interviews was presented to The School Superintendents Association as a beneficial program and was recommended to be performed in high schools and some students see the benefits of the senior interviews.

“I definitely think that senior exit interviews are helpful for the administration,” senior Dani Nisbet said. “The interview allows members of the administration to directly hear the good things about ESD and things that need improvement. It is up to the administration [to change things], but I’m glad they are trying to hear directly from the students in a more personal way.”

While nothing has yet been done to address the positive or negative aspects of the seniors’ experiences, the administration will review this year’s information and look for recurring issues and student feedback.

“Mr. Heil is taking notes as we go and we will look at the compilation of all the answers and see what patterns there are and what are the ways we can use the information,” Baad said. “We want to hear what has been good about the seniors’ experiences and make sure we continue to do those things and we want to hear what we can do better from the students’ point of view and how we can improve and make their experience better than it is.”

The interview is meant to be open ended and allow students to interpret the questions on their own and how they best see fit. The administration chose to hold the interviews in groups of three seniors at a time in order to have every voice heard and make it a space students feel comfortable sharing their opinions in.

Heil put together four open-ended questions to get feedback and data from our seniors. Heil said the questions are, “What have you most valued? What teachers have had a particular impact on you? What advice would you give your freshman self? What can we do better?”

But to some, these questions have been perceived as too focused on the good and not asking enough about the experience to really understand what issues have been difficult for students. Because the question “what can we do better?” isn’t specific to a sector of the school, there is a lot of room for opinions and feelings to fall through the cracks.

“I didn’t like that it felt like all the questions were asking about how great the school was rather than us being able to give unfiltered feedback on stuff that has been rough in high school,” senior Virginia Nussbaumer said. “I shared information and feedback for growth, but once again, it all depends on whether or not the feedback is applied and if they actually listened to what we said rather than just hearing it.”

The administration is planning on reviewing the results and making changes as they see fit. But since the changes won’t be in place until after this group of seniors graduates, it’s difficult for students to see how their experiences and views will change the way the school operates.

“Honestly, I’m not sure whether or not my opinion will be listened to from this interview,” senior Casey Curtis said. “There were moments when I felt like the people in the room were listening just for the sake of listening and providing comments thanking me for my feedback, and providing vague promises of what could be improved in the future. I hope my opinion will be taken into account for the sake of other ESD students but I think in order to improve, the administration needs to empathize with their students and truly value their opinions about the school.

With a co-ed student body, some students think it is important to have both male and female administrators present in the interviews in order to create change. Nussbaumer thinks having a female administrator during the senior interview would be a good idea.

 “I wish Mrs. Burke (Associate Head of School) was in the room too,” Nussbaumer said. “Talking to a woman is more likely to result in change and let more of our voices be heard, especially from me as a teenage girl.”

However, a recurring comment made during the interviews included students talking about the teachers they think have made the biggest impacts in their lives.

“Particularly I’ve been asking them what they think makes good teaching,” Baad said. “Our job is to make sure that we get the best teachers in the classroom with you and we want to hear what resonates with students as it relates to teaching.”

Getting to hear the teaching styles students associate with being effective and interesting will help the administration continue to hire teachers that will make a good fit and help students in and out of the classroom.

“The best part of the [interviews] has been hearing students talk about their teachers and the impacts they have made on them,” Heil said. “I’m trying to figure out a way to share that with the teachers so they can hear the great impact they have made on students’ life because they don’t often get to hear that.”

In addition to the teachers making an impact, points ranging from academics to social issues were all discussed. Since seniors were able to create their own interview groups, they were able to find a space where they felt comfortable addressing their concerns.

“Some of the points made for future improvements during my exit interview by friends and myself include[d], improving student mental health resources, actively listening to student opinions and taking them into account when making decisions for the community, and creating a healthier culture of inclusion in all school activities,” Curtis said. “I hope improvements will be made, but I believe that they will take longer than the swift action that the student body needs to thrive.”

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