Building State and District Capacity to Improve School Climate and Learning
The New England Equity Assistance Center provides technical assistance and professional development to state departments of education, school districts, and individual schools on the importance of and strategies for improving school climate as a prerequisite for improving student learning. School climate is an overall concept that includes Safety, Teaching and Learning, Interpersonal Relationships, and Institutional Environment. This model is based on the National School Climate Council’s framework for understanding school climate. Their model is one of several that the US Department of Education’s Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) Technical Assistance Center supports. We also help districts consider the factors in selecting a school climate measurement strategy and tool from those on the S3 list that best fits their needs. We work with state departments of education to consider how they might adopt, adapt, and implement the National School Climate Standards.
Our work within this model, on each of these four sets of concerns, is strongly rooted in an equity perspective and is based on the latest research (see School Climate Equity Research). Our most developed area of work has been on school safety, with a particular focus on the equity issues related to it. In all school districts, equity issues related to school safety exist, because all schools include students who are members of legally protected classes under federal civil rights laws. In addition, equity issues related to socio-economic status, a characteristic not covered under federal civil rights law, are critically important to school safety. This perspective is the foundation for our school safety work. Building on this foundation, we have created a unique model to move districts forward to take clear responsibility for the equity issues related to school safety.
New England Safe Schools Equity Project
Our safe schools equity model consists of the following components:
- policy development
- procedures development with recommended tools
- training for a core staff of administrators and counselors and possibly selected teachers
- training for all district staff
- follow up to review adherence and any needed modifications to district procedures
Our two-day training for trainers and equity coordinators is specifically designed to increase district capacity to train school-based staff and to implement detailed procedures to create a seamless system of accountability.
The comprehensive, equity-based policies we promote include the following components:
- a clear distinction between bullying and harassment
- inclusion of all areas of harassment (racial, national origin-based, sexual, sexual orientation, gender identity) within one policy
- cyberbullying and cyber-harassment
- retaliatory behavior as a more serious disciplinary infraction
- safety planning
Many districts develop policies that also cover adult behavior, thereby setting clear norms for all members of the school community.
Materials Available to Schools, Districts, and State Departments of Education
Our client schools districts have developed, with our assistance, their own comprehensive policies (see School Safety Materials) based, first and foremost, on their state bullying laws and the requirements of federal civil rights laws. Along with comprehensive policies, detailed procedures are needed that require accountability at all levels – school staff, school administrators, and district leaders. To support this accountability, the NEEAC’s New England Safe Schools Equity Project developed the RITA Checklist. A generic form of the Checklist is included on the School Safety Materials page, as are district-specific versions. Other procedures from districts in various New England states are included.