June 6, 2012

Comprehensive School Climate Inventory Measures Social and Emotional Learning

The results of a “social climate inventory” administered in October, 2011, to Princeton Regional School District (PRSD) students, parents, and employees, highlighted district strengths and revealed areas that need improvement.

PRSD received high marks in “rules and norms regarding safety,” which means that students feel they are in an environment that protects them from physical violence, verbal abuse, and harassment. In addition, school environments were rated high overall in terms of mutual respect for individual differences based upon such factors as gender, race, and culture.

“The area that reveals a universal need across all six buildings is social and emotional learning,” reported the district. “This is not a surprise to us as we work with students each day to ensure that they can attain a sense of personal self-confidence and emotional health in their school, social, and family lives.”

Princeton Center for Leadership Training director Daniel Oscar, whose organization was consulted prior to the survey, said that the impetus for it was the district’s desire “to examine how well and how consistently and how comprehensively they were meeting the social and emotional needs of all of its students.” While it was clear that some students were doing “great work,” there wasn’t “a clear understanding if they were reaching every kid at every grade level.” The survey, Mr. Oscar said, “was the best way to take the pulse of where the district is at.”

A school climate survey is said to refer “to the quality of school life, which sets the tone for all learning and teaching done in the school environment.” Areas surveyed fell under five categories, including safety (sense of physical and emotional security); teaching and learning (support for learning and development of civic skills); interpersonal relationships (respect for diversity, support from adults and peers); institutional environment (feelings of connectedness; satisfaction with physical surroundings); and leadership and professional relationships among staff.

“Overall, we were pleased with the outcome,” reported Princeton High School (PHS) Principal Gary Snyder. “Most of the indicators were positive; there was a lot of really good news.” Delving “into it a little more,” he added, schools “found areas to focus on improvement in the future.” In PHS’s case, the aspect described as “social and civic learning” could be beefed up.

“One of the things we’re looking at is at a grade level,” continued Mr. Snyder. “We do a lot in our 9th grade peer group program, and a lot in our health curriculum, but peer group ends when 10th graders take Drivers’ Education. As a result, he said, “we thought we might look for building into existing programs and/or adding on in the 10th grade.”

“Where indicators varied from school to school, some of that variation follows national trends as students age from elementary to high school,” said superintendent Judy Wilson, responding to a question about differences among the Princeton public schools. “Some variation occurred because of strong emphasis in a particular building, e.g., Littlebrook is especially strong on student service for grades K through 5, annually.

“Overall,” she commented, “no indicator for any school fell in the negative range and we were very pleased with the results.”

Mr. Oscar reported that the Princeton Center for Leadership Training is continuing to facilitate meetings “that include the superintendent, certain principals, and other key members of the district staff,” and that counselors are being encouraged “to engage in discussions about the current state of affairs and what steps need to be taken.”

While a future role for the Princeton Center for Leadership Training in PRSD’s efforts to improve school climate is uncertain at this time, it is clear that the schools will be following up on a regular basis. “While we had almost 100 percent of students in grades 3 through 12 take the survey, the percentage of parents and staff taking the survey varied widely and in some schools was low,” said Judy Wilson. “This was the first year of the survey, so I know those numbers will increase next year.”

You think you have a sense of what the climate is and it confirms a lot of what you believe.” observed Mr. Snyder, “It also forces you to analyze and find areas of improvement.”

A summary description of Princeton Public School’s use of the Comprehensive School Climate Survey, including survey results, is available at the website www.prs.k12.nj.us.