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Ashland schools pick residents' brains

ASHLAND ' The Ashland School District is spending &

36;16,000 for a community survey to help it better understand how residents feel about local schools and the issues they face.

Starting this weekend or early next week, representatives of Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall Inc., based in Portland, will call 400 randomly selected residents to ask survey questions, which will take an average of 10 to 12 minutes to complete.

Adam Davis, a partner in the firm, said participants will be asked questions about overall school performance, the strengths and weaknesses of the district, and reactions to the decline in enrollment, school closures, the decrease in state funding and ways the district could find more funding options.

Other questions include whether the high school should have some classes divided into smaller learning communities and concerns about the possibility of overcrowded schools with the loss of two elementary schools in town. Briscoe Elementary closed in 2003, and Lincoln Elementary is expected to close in June.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said the district wanted a way to gauge public viewpoints besides those of people who write letters or attend school district board meetings.

— When we have public meetings, we may have 50 people out of the thousands living here, she said. We're hoping to get a more broad-based idea of how people feel about our schools and get a better feel of how people are perceiving our schools.

She said the survey's cost will be paid from the district's general fund. It's well worth the cost because it will give the district invaluable information on public opinion, she said, which will help the district better meet the needs of the community and its students.

School board Chairwoman Amy Amrhein agreed.

A public school system is a reflection of the community and we want to make sure we're representing our taxpayers in the way they want us to, she said.

Davis said his firm specializes in working with school districts and school-related organizations on surveys. They have worked for the Oregon State Board of Education, the Portland Schools Foundation, and schools throughout Oregon and in Alaska and Colorado.

The identity of survey participants will be confidential, even to the school district, Davis said.

Survey results will be presented to the school board in October.

For those who do not get called, an online survey will be available at the school district Web site after the telephone survey is completed.

To access the online survey once it is available, visit on the Web.

Bill Choy is a reporter for the and the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456.