Make Your LCAP Successful and Sustainable by Focusing on School Climate

September 15 2015


  • William Grace Frost, Former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters
    William Grace Frost
    Former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters

Common Core is up and running and California schools are well on their way to implementing their Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP’s), part of the state’s 2013-14 Budget Act that included legislation that greatly simplifies the state’s school finance system. Under the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), California will now fund public school districts, charter schools and county offices of education on an equal basis per student.

The good news is that within the LCFF requirements, school climate is one of eight areas of primary focus for improvement, signaling an increased recognition of the value, benefits and effectiveness of improving school climate for better academic and social outcomes. In fact, California has allocated $10 million to provide a statewide network of trainers, training programs and coaching, and grants to school districts to create and support a system of school-wide social-emotional and positive behavior support, including training in restorative justice and cultural competency.

The current trends, research and legislation all highlight and promote the importance of school climate as a primary cornerstone and driver for improving safety, discipline, attendance and achievement. According to the National School Climate Center (NCSS), “Students benefit in many ways from safe, caring, and peaceful school environments.”

“Positive school climate has been linked to a host of favorable student outcomes, from attendance to achievement,” writes Milbrey McLaughlin, professor of education and public policy at Stanford University and founding director of the John W. Gardner Center. “A positive school climate includes four key elements for students: physical and emotional safety at school; positive relationships with peers and adults; support for learning; and an institutional environment that fosters connectedness and engagement.”

Although it may be awhile before the verdict comes in on whether or not administrators are doing enough to make sure that school climates are being changed in a sustainable way, we can increase the probability by covering all the bases.

Based on our experience in conducting Whole School Climate 360 Assessments with a number of districts across the country, Community Matters believes that “covering the bases” includes four main steps: assess, plan, implement and measure. This is true for any school district, whether in satisfying the requirements of LCAP, Common Core or other mandates:

Assess – Undertaking a comprehensive assessment early in your process is critical to understanding what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing in safety initiatives, discipline policies and practices, and in the climate improvement programs needed. Choose indicators such as suspensions, referrals and attendance rates that shed light on your school’s current climate, and that can be used to gather baseline data and to track the progress and success of your change initiatives.  A thorough assessment also serves as your best opportunity to include representatives from all key stakeholder groups, bring their perspectives into focus, and secure their buy-in to the change process.

Plan – Create a comprehensive plan with as much detail as possible, outlining specific goals and actions such as:

  • creating policies and procedures to replace zero-tolerance and other punitive measures;
  • using restorative practices;
  • student leadership and bystander empowerment opportunities;
  • Social-Emotional Learning programs;
  • suspension and expulsion reduction practices and procedures

Implement – Successful implementation begins with the vision and the plan being fully communicated to your team of diverse stakeholders. This step occurs throughout the change process and keeps people in the loop all along the way. On-going communication is critical to implementation success, as is being sure that people receive whatever training is needed to carry out the plan. By doing these two things well, you ensure that participants feel included, valued and confident that the process will result in positive change.

Measure – When all is said and done, we know that data drives decisions. By starting with comprehensive baseline data, you will be able to see clearly from year to year what’s working, what’s not and where your best opportunities are for improvement. Data is also your best friend when it comes to making your case for future funding and in gaining greater buy-in from organizational and community leaders.

Following these simple principles will help ensure your success and the long-term sustainability of your LCAP, Common Core and climate improvement efforts.

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