Auditing Your School Climate: The First Step to Achieving Safer and High Performing Schools

December 5 2013


It’s no secret that the responsibilities of school administrators have increased significantly. Challenged every day to fulfill the core mandates of getting students to attend school, keeping them safe, improving academic performance, and achieving higher graduation rates, they also have to comply with ever-expanding laws and imperatives to address bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment and discrimination. What we know is that all the above expectations can be best achieved by focusing first and foremost on School Climate.

While every district will, of course, have its own particular circumstances, each one will need to begin by gaining a thorough understanding of their climate efforts: what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing. You have to know "where you are" in order to create a strategic plan for "where you want to get to". We call this the Whole School Climate Audit.

To start, we recommend addressing these 4 key areas:

  • District Discipline Policies and Procedures -  Take a deep look at the district's discipline policies and procedures to see if they are in alignment with the core values the district upholds, particularly regarding the use of restorative justice practices vs. those that are more punitive in nature.
  • School Social Emotional Climate Analysis - Conduct a thorough analysis of the schools’ social-emotional climates using surveys. There are many such resources online, such as the National School Climate Center’s Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI).
  • Suspension Data/Rates Analysis -  Analyze your suspension data / rates to see how much they are costing in time and money and if indeed suspending students is getting the results you desire in changing negative behavior.
  • Bullying Prevention Assessment -  Assess your programs and activities, especially those that are intended to prevent and intervene in bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment and discrimination, and research viable options.

We also recommend that you conduct ongoing analysis. One effective tool is the SWOT analysis. In this process, a team reviews your current school climate efforts looking at four areas:

- Strengths (S)
- Weaknesses (W)
- Opportunities (O) and
- Threats to your current efforts (T)

It’s critical to include all stakeholders’ voices in the whole school climate assessment process – administrators, teachers, unclassified staff, students, parents and community partners involved with youth development. This can be accomplished with surveys, focus groups, informal circles or town hall meetings and are best facilitated by neutral professionals.

Conducting this “deep dive exploration”, while critically important to improving school safety, can feel overwhelming and labor intensive to many educators.  For those reasons, and because of our experience in knowing the importance of school climate as the foundation for having safer and higher performing schools, we developed our Whole School Climate 360 Audit (WSC360).

The WSC360 Audit is a comprehensive, district-wide assessment and analysis process that identifies strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in a district’s climate improvement efforts. It identifies key learnings and provides specific solution-based recommendations that can:

  • enhance school safety
  • reduce suspensions
  • improve attendance
  • increase academic achievement
  • recover much of the time and money expended dealing with disciplinary incidents.

There are 5 Stages of Community Matters’ WSC360 Audit:

  1. Assess Climate – We conduct a comprehensive assessment utilizing written and oral interviews with key leaders to gain a deeper understanding of your existing district climate issues, initiatives, policies and procedures.
  2. Design Audit – We customize a set of processes and tools we’ll use to obtain an in-depth understanding of your school climate (could include surveys, one-on-one and group interviews, in-depth focus groups with stakeholders and/or a detailed review of discipline policies).
  3. Implement Process – We conduct the audit processes and gather input.
  4. Analyze Findings – We review, organize and synthesize the gathered information.
  5. Provide Solutions – We develop a comprehensive report, including key findings and a set of effective and best-practice recommendations for strengthening your district’s school climate. This also can include a presentation to your Board, or other appropriate body, and a digital presentation for you to educate your constituents and foster support for your next steps.

Daryl Thiesen, Prevention Programs Coordinator of Kern County, California, has utilized Community Matters’ programs and services for nearly 20 years. Mr. Thiesen says it this way:

“Community Matters' Whole School Climate 360 Audit is the leading edge approach in school climate improvements. They take a deep dive under the district’s hood and come up with excellent recommendations for programs, services and policy improvements so schools can better serve all students.”

What’s the value of having a School Climate Improvement Plan?

Putting a plan in place can create safer and higher performing schools, save time, recover money and help your students achieve higher academic performance. Here’s an example: Over a five-year period, the Petaluma City School District (CA) adopted and implemented a school climate improvement plan. They replaced school resource officers with student and family specialists, balanced punitive disciplinary policies with restorative ones, provided extensive training and support for staff, and invested in engaging and empowering students to be positive contributors.
As a result, while more than doubling its population of Limited English Proficiency students, the district experienced:

  • 34% fewer suspensions and 28.5% fewer suspension days
  • 2% increase in attendance, resulting in $950,000 more in annual daily attendance revenue
  • 11% performance improvement on state standardized tests

Whether you utilize the WSC360 Audit program provided by Community Matters or you use your own internal staff to handle your school climate assessment, knowing more about what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing will go a long way to meeting the multiple expectations placed on administrators and achieving safer, thriving and higher performing schools.

Should you choose to invite us to assist you in your audit planning, please call 707-823-6159 to schedule a 60-minute, no-cost, no-obligation discovery session. This session is a great way to determine how best to proceed and to begin identifying potential best-practice strategies, resources and tools for strengthening your school climate.

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