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Safe and Supportive Schools

Supports statewide measurement of conditions for learning (school climate) and targeted programmatic interventions to improve those conditions.


The California Department of Education received a multi-year Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support statewide measurement of school climate, as well as targeted programmatic interventions to improve those conditions. The S3 grant addressed issues of school safety and bullying, substance abuse, positive relationships, other learning support, and student engagement. The grant targeted California's comprehensive high schools (grades nine through twelve) with the greatest needs in multiple areas of school climate.

Participating Districts & Schools

Ninety five districts participated in the baseline data collection phase and 58 high schools that had the lowest school climate index were funded for programmatic intervention. Each school received a three-year grant ranging from $100,000 to $175,000 depending on their school size.

Project Outcomes

Overall, the California S3 project was a success. By the end of September 2014, based on the last data collection using the California School Climate, Health, and Learning Surveys (Cal-SCHLS) External link opens in new window or tab., four out of five S3 schools improved their SCI, while two out of five schools improved in supports and engagements, and almost all saw a reduction in violence and substance use among students.

In addition, 90 percent of S3 schools lowered their 30-day alcohol use among students, and about half of these schools saw a reduction in harassment and bullying as well as a decrease in suspensions for violence without physical injury. All of these accomplishments were made in less than three years of full implementation.

S3 schools in general recorded a statistically significant 29-point gain on the SCI with a strong effect size of .71. Stating the SCI scores as California state percentiles, S3 schools collectively grew from the 21st percentile at baseline to the 42nd percentile in the last funding year of 2014. When contrasted with the small SCI gain realized by the non-grantee comparison group, the S3 schools still had a level of improvement with a moderate .49 effect size.

These quantitative findings were confirmed by the student focus groups conducted in all 58 S3 schools in spring 2014. The large majority of student focus groups reported that their schools were safer with reduced bullying (80 percent), lower substance use (70 percent), and fewer flights and assaults (90 percent); while school staff had raised their expectations of students (80 percent) and demonstrated more caring relationships (75 percent).

Lessons Learned

The S3 grant was a valuable experience for the CDE and the California grantees. Much of what was learned could be offered as advice to educators interested in a similar project, including:

  • You cannot improve what you do not know. Start by conducting a schoolwide assessment of needs and resources. Use data to guide action planning and decision making.
  • Build stakeholder involvement. Conduct surveys and/or focus groups among students, staff, and parents. Share the results with them and solicit help during these data sharing meetings.
  • Prioritize needs. Use data to identify a few key problems that have a high level of staff buy-in and will make the most difference if fixed. Tackle these first.
  • Cultivate strong administrative leadership. You will need full support from the site administrator for resource allocation, visibility building, and stakeholder communications.  
  • Work to achieve a Single School Culture. Negotiate with all staff to define, train, and enforce common norms and expectations from students. .
  • Engage staff and create buy-in in the very beginning. Staff interactions with students every day largely determine whether the school experience is positive or negative.
  • Use evidence-based programs. Select programs that meet the needs of your schools and are feasible to implement and sustainable. Staff buy-in are critical.
  • Do not be overly aggressive. Only implement a few programs but fully implement them with fidelity.
  • There are many low or no-cost strategies to build supports and engagements in school. Staff just have to change how they interact with students.
  • Implement a multi-tiered system of supports that provides universal supports for all students and targeted interventions and referrals for high-risk youth, working in collaboration with community agencies
  • Schools may see an improvement in school safety first because it involves fewer staff to accomplish.
  • However, improving supports and engagements is critical to changing the overall school climate. It takes longer to implement because relationship building takes time.
  • It is critical to incorporate student voice in the program. Conducting youth focus groups such as Student Listening Circles or World Café created buy-in from students and empowered them to make changes. 
  • Communicate high expectations for students and provide supports to help students meet them. Engage youth in youth development programs. Recruit students as peer mentors in Link Crew, train them as peer mediators, or involve them in restorative justice program, youth court, or other anti-bullying program such as Safe School Ambassador.  
  • Change the disciplinary policies to drop student suspension as a primarily disciplinary measure. Instead adopt tiered interventions such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Restorative Justice, and/or providing more counselors to support students.
  • Recognize the importance of district support to long-term, sustainable success. District buy-in and supports in terms of leadership, funding support, visibility awareness, and internal coaching capacity are critical.
  • School climate improvements should never be an isolated program, but should be fully integrated into daily operations and the overall school improvement process to increase long-term sustainability. Integrating your school climate plan into your single plan for student achievement, school accreditation plan, or align with district and state plans.

A Lessons Learned Brief External link opens in new window or tab. was developed summarizing lessons learned from the California S3 experience, along with a Case Study on San Juan High School External link opens in new window or tab..

Baseline Data Collection

As part of the grant requirement, participating districts were required to administer the Cal-SCHLS system to collect survey data among their ninth and eleventh grade students, staff, and parents in Year 1 and Year 4. Cal-SCHLS is comprised of three interrelated surveys developed for and supported by the CDE:

These surveys provide schools and districts with critical information about the learning and teaching environment, the health and well-being of students, and support for parents, school staff, and students that foster learning and school success. When used together, data from these three surveys help assess the needs, concerns, and successes of the school community—teachers, students, and parents—and allow schools and districts to compare perceptions about the status of these areas across stakeholder groups.

School Climate Index

To measure school climate and safety needs, each high school in participating districts received an SCI based on select CHKS indicators on school safety, use of alcohol and drugs at school, school connectedness, protective factors, etc., along with student incident data. To ensure accurate data representation, an SCI was only calculated when there was a response rate of at least 60 percent from the student CHKS.

A School Climate Report Card External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) was generated for each school receiving an SCI.  

Programmatic Intervention

Intervention Framework

Intervention schools used grant funds to implement the following intervention framework:

  • District and school commitment
  • Integration of school climate into school improvement plans
  • Systematic data-driven decision making
  • Parent and community engagement
  • Interventions for general and at-risk populations
  • Adoption of evidence-based programs or research-based strategies

A list of the S3 intervention strategies can be found in the S3 Intervention Summary External link opens in new window or tab.

Additional School Climate Resources

California Safe and Supportive Schools Website External link opens in new window or tab.
Provides resources and tools on creating a safe and supportive school climate, including a resource library External link opens in new window or tab. and monthly newsletter External link opens in new window or tab..

Questions: Hilva Chan | | 916-319-0194 
Last Reviewed: Friday, February 16, 2024