Helping Kids Reach For The Stars

Just as the workplace environment influences employee absenteeism, retention, and productivity, school climate affects student attendance, behavior, learning, and graduation.

But what is “school climate?” Broadly speaking, it is the quality and character of school life. It refers to feelings of safety – social, emotional and physical– when at school and positive relationships between students and peers and between students and the adults in the school. When students do not feel safe at school, they are likely to miss more days – and more opportunities for learning. And, even when they are at school, a fearful school climate can be distracting.

Responding to the growing body of research indicating that positive school climates lead to increased academic achievement and higher graduation rates, Georgia began taking steps to measure and improve climates in schools across the state in 2012. Leading the nation, Georgia is now the first state to include school climate in its state academic accountability system, the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). Combining data on student discipline and attendance with survey data on drug and alcohol use, bullying, dangerous incidents and general school perceptions, the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) bestows a one-to-five star rating on every public school in the state.

Along with their climate star ratings, schools will receive a comprehensive report outlining areas in need of improvement to help them plan targeted student interventions to improve school climate and student academic achievement. To assist school districts in improving school climate, GaDOE is promoting and assisting in the implementation of

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), an evidence-based, data-driven framework that has been proven to reduce unnecessary discipline and promote a climate of greater productivity, safety, and learning.

With a strong correlation between school climate star ratings and reading proficiency at the end of third grade, an innovative public-private partnership is creating a model for the promotion of positive school climates across early learning centers and elementary schools. To ensure that ALL children learn to read before they leave third grade, last year The David, Helen and Marian Woodward Fund – Atlanta awarded funding to a collaborative led by the Metro Regional Educational Service Agency (Metro RESA). Together with Bright from the Start: The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, Georgia Department of Education, Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Fulton County Schools, and the Get Georgia Reading Campaign, Metro RESA is using the Woodward funding to develop a prototype for improved learning climates for children, from birth through third grade.

Working with renowned national leaders for both School-wide PBIS (used in K-12 schools) and thePyramid model of PBIS (used in early learning centers), the partners are creating a blended PBIS model tailored to the developmental stages that children move through during their first eight years. The prototype is focusing on two elementary schools and one “feeder” early learning center in each of the three partner school districts. Woodward funding is supporting one full-time Early Learning Climate Manager, based at the Metro RESA, and three part-time Early Learning Climate Specialists, with each specialist focusing on one school district. As a result of this prototype, the Metro RESA has become a Bright from the Start certified trainer for Birth through 5, marking the first time Georgia’s RESAs have engaged in supporting early learning programs.

This private investment leverages recent state investments in the infrastructure provided by the 16 RESAs to promote positive learning climates in K-12 schools across the state.  As the partners in this prototype fine tune the blended model and strategies for working across the early learning and early grades, they will share those lessons with other interested RESAs with the goal of expanding this work across Georgia – and providing all our young children with a school climate that will help them learn to read by third grade so they can read to learn throughout life.

— Sarah Torian