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ImprovingAcademics:WhySchoolClimateMatters

ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/11/01/improvingacademicswhyschoolclimatematters/

ByKatLonsdorf
EverydayatWeinerElementarySchoolstartswithadanceparty,usuallytoBestDayofMyLifebyAmericanAuthors
andthatsbeforethe7:50a.m.bellevenrings.
Thencomesthemorningassembly,whereall121studentsandthestaffgatherfor20minutesinthecafeteriaofthe
schoolinWeiner,Ark.Theysingsongsandlearnaboutanartist,amusicianandaninternationalcityoftheweek.
Theycelebratebirthdays.AluckystudentiscrownedStudentoftheDay.And PamHoguemakesithergoaltobean
educatorinsteadofaprincipal.
Thatassemblyandthemanyotherthingsthisschooldoestocreateasenseofcommunityandhappinessispart
ofwhatexpertscallschoolclimate.
Itsafeelinginabuilding,Hogueexplains.Whenyouwalkinhere,itjustfeelsright.Itlookslikeaplacewhere
learningishappening.
And,likeafeeling,schoolclimateishardtodefine,difficulttomeasureandcanswingpositiveornegative.
AstudypublishedintheReviewofEducationalResearchtodaysuggeststhatschoolclimateissomethingeducators
andcommunitiesshouldprioritizeespeciallyasawaytobridgetheelusiveachievementgap.Theauthorsanalyzed
morethan15yearsofresearchonschoolsworldwide,andfoundthatpositiveschoolclimatehadasignificantimpact
onacademics.
Andheresthebiggesttakeaway:Theresnolinkbetweenschoolclimateandsocioeconomicstatus.Inotherwords,
thereareplentyofhappyschoolsinlowincomeneighborhoods,too.
Obviouslyyouneedtohaveagreatmathteacherthatcanteachmath,butthosesocialandemotionalconnections
reallyhelpintheacademicareatoo,saysRonAviAstor,aprofessorattheUniversityofSouthernCaliforniaandaco
authorofthestudy.Thatcreatesalotofopportunitiesforthelowincomeschools,bygivingreformersmoretoolsto
thinkabout,hesays.
WhenPamHoguetookoverasWeinerElementarysprincipalthreeyearsago,tardinesswasaproblem.Enrollment
wasdown.Thecommunitywaslosingfaithinitspublicschools.
Weinerisaruraltownwithapopulationoflessthan700.Amajorityofthekidscomefromfarmingfamiliessoybeans
andrice,mostlyandmorethan99percentreceivefreeandreducedpricelunch.
HoguesatdownwithafacultyteamtoenvisiontheschooltheywantedaschoolwiththetaglineAgreatplacetobe
akid.
Now,studentsarerarelylate(noonewantstomissoutonthatassembly).Averageattendanceis99.93percentthis
year.Andmostimportantly,Hoguesays,peopleintheschoolstudentsandstaffarehappy.
Thisideaofcreatingagoodschoolcultureisntnew,but2016hasbeenabigyearforurgingschoolstomeasureit.
Forthefirsttimeever,theEveryStudentSucceedsAct(ESSA)requiresstatestoincludenonacademicfactorslike
schoolclimateinhowtheygaugeschoolsuccess.Earlierthisyear,theDepartmentofEducationreleasedanonline
toolboxtohelpadministratorsbettermeasureandunderstandtheschoolclimate.Onerecentbriefevenlinkeda
positiveenvironmentwithimprovedteacherretention.

Thepotentialpayoffsarebig,saysJoaquinTamayo,directorofstrategicinitiativesattheU.S.Departmentof
Education.
Improvingschoolclimateistough,itstedious,itsincremental,hesays.Butwhenfolkscandoitright,andwhen
theyreallyputnotjusttheirmindbuttheirheartintoit,itsjustsuchabeautifulthing.
Theresstillalotofworktobedoneintermsofdefining,andmeasuring,aschoolsclimate.Agreatschoolculturein
theBronx,forexample,mightrequiredifferentresourcesthanaschoolliketheonePamHoguerunsinnortheast
Arkansas.
Butthenewstudyscoauthor,RonAviAstor,saysthebestschoolstranscendthecultureofthecommunityaround
them.Theymaydifferindesign,buttheycanfeelverysimilar.
Theykindofseethemselvesasvehiclestochangesocietythatthesekidsaregoingtogooutandnotjustreflect
wheretheycamefromandwhotheyare,butchangeallthat,hesays.Andthosearethemostexcitingschools.
PamHogueseesschoolclimateasalaunchingpointawaytocatapultkidstowardopportunitiesoutsidetheir
immediateenvironment.
Whatwewanttodoisgiveourkidsnotonlytheskillsbutalsotheattitudesthingslikeconfidencetochoose
wheretheygointheirlife,Hoguesays.Iwantthemtohavetheskillsandtheconfidencetomakethatchange.
Copyright2016NPR.Toseemore,visithttp://www.npr.org/.
Explore:Uncategorized,achievementgap,ESSA,schoolclimate,socialemotionallearning
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