Heads Up

Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to: 

  • connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
  • share ideas about learning and human development;
  • spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy. 

Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing. 

Michael Ulku-SteinerHead of School 


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A new mirror for DA

This year we tested a new tool to help us understand and improve Durham Academy. 

Along with fifteen schools in our INDEX benchmarking group (DA is listed under Large Schools), we measured parent satisfaction using the Net Promoter 2.0 model developed by Bain Consulting. Though no survey instrument is perfect, the Net Promoter model offered a widely-used, succinct and clear questionnaire, allowing us to generate focused input, a high response rate and apples-to-apples comparisons with peer schools. The responses were anonymous, the questions simple:

  • In which division(s) do you have children (PS, LS, MS, US)?
  • How likely is it that you would recommend Durham Academy to a friend or family member? (choices ranged from 1-not at all likely to 10-extremely likely)
  • Why did you give Durham Academy this rating?
  • What changes would Durham Academy have to make for you to give the school a higher rating?

Our numerical responses were reassuring - confirming extraordinary levels of parent engagement and high levels of general satisfaction with Durham Academy. The response rate was remarkably high; 767 parents completed the survey. 57% of those answered they would be extremely likely to recommend DA with a 9 or 10 and 89% rated their likelihood of recommending DA at 7 or above.

Our administrative team read every narrative response. Among the most common themes of our most satisfied parents:

  • quality of faculty (caring, dedicated, teachers who know and excite students about their subject matters).
  • intensity of relationships (the “sense of community” among students and teachers, and among families more generally)
  • variety and quality of extracurricular experiences (in particular: extended day, enrichments, sports, music, chess, debate, and community service).
  • diversity of the student body and faculty, especially relative to other private schools.

Of course, we paid particular attention to the responses from parents who rated their likelihood to recommend DA in the 0-6 range.

Some common recommendations emerged:

  • raise the expectations for quality instruction (more supervision and training; “Not every teacher is excellent every day.”)
  • increase diversity (of the student body, faculty, and curricular program)
  • reduce tuition (“I love the school for my children but would hesitate to recommend it to others, given the high price.”)
  • personalize instruction more actively (particularly for especially gifted students, those who struggle with learning differences, and/or those with introverted personalities).
  • ensure DA is a welcoming community (opportunities to connect with the school, faculty and other families, consideration for working parents.

Though it is never easy to know that we have fallen short of some parents’ expectations, it is reassuring to know that the most commonly-expressed dissatisfactions match neatly with the goals of our Strategic Plan. No surprise here, given that parents contributed so helpfully to the detailed surveys, listening sessions and retreats that led to the Plan, and that current DA parents comprise such a large proportion of our Board of Trustees. Click below to see the identified action steps for the highest-priority goals of the Plan:

Last week, a conference call with school heads from the other participating schools (see list below) revealed some common themes across the country. Satisfaction is generally highest in the earlier grades. High tuitions require significant sacrifices. Parent expectations for high-quality teachers are intense . . . and justified. Many heads recognized that the survey’s phrasing (“likelihood to recommend”) elicits something different from a straightforward measure of satisfaction, given the relatively high costs and ambitious academic demands of our schools.

In any case, we value this and all opportunities to hear from our parents. Deeper analysis of the responses, division by division, will continue this spring. In October I’ll meet with school heads for more detailed benchmarking and discussion. Most importantly, we’ll spend our best energy pushing forward with the aims of the Strategic Plan.

Thanks to all 767 of you who responded to the survey and helped to guide our work. 


INDEX schools participating in the NPS Pilot Project

  • Berkeley Preparatory School (FL)
  • Chadwick School 
  • Christ Church Episcopal School (SC)
  • Durham Academy (NC)
  • Dwight-Englewood School (NJ)
  • Episcopal Academy (PA)
  • Hawken School
  • Holland Hall
  • Isidore Newman School (LA)
  • Norfolk Academy 
  • Park Tudor School
  • Pembroke Hill School 
  • Randolph School
  • Rowland Hall (UT)
  • University School of Milwaukee (WI)

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Posted by mulkus on Monday January, 11, 2016


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