School Climate & Safety

New Report Cards Consider School Climate

By Nirvi Shah — April 04, 2013 2 min read
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Across Hayward, Wis., signs cheering local high school students—all of them, not just one athletic team—are everywhere, all a different spin on the school district mascot, a hurricane.

“Perky Like a Cane” adorns the local Perkins restaurant. “Milk Like a Cane” reads a sign on a farm. “Bank Like a Cane” is on, of course, a local bank.

As part of a push to show Hayward High School students they are supported by the whole community and to encourage community involvement in the school, the “Like a Cane” campaign was born. (No one could fully explain how a violent tropical weather event came to be the mascot of a Wisconsin school. Just go with it.)

The district involved the whole community in a plan to improve the climate inside Hayward High School, in part because of the lingering political rift in a state where education policies and politics have pitted teachers against everyone else, Hayward Superintendent Craig Olson said.

Hayward was one of several Wisconsin schools targeted for improvements to school climate through a federal grant program aimed at holding schools accountable for their success in nonacademic arenas, including school climate, student discipline, and parent involvement. The federal Safe and Supportive Schools grant program, or S3, awarded grants to 11 states. States looked at high schools with high rates of suspensions, expulsions, office referrals, truancy, and other factors, and then asked students at those schools, and parents and staff in some cases, to take anonymous surveys about their schools. For schools that are participating, states created online report cards that show schools’ progress in these areas. (These are Wisconsin’s report cards.)

At Hayward, the results led to the “Like a Cane” campaign, Olson said.

“The whole premise was to improve the culture and climate throughout the school district and the community, get kids to want to come to school,” he said.

Across the 2,000-student district, the volunteer force has increased about 12 percent since the grant program began three years ago, said Diane Tremblay, one of the high school’s science teachers who has been coordinating grant-related efforts. There was a single expulsion last school year, compared to dozens in past years. Participation in extracurricular activities at the high school—activities that can motivate students to come to school and be engaged at school&has gone up 10 percent. The graduation rate among Native American students has gone from 46 percent to 60 percent. And reports of bullying and harassment have dropped.

“The S3 grant has been one of the best attributes to the school district,” Olson said, and being accountable for all of these factors, not just how students are performing on math and reading tests, is driving all of the changes, he said.

On a related note, other types of report cards are cropping up to measure nonacademic attributes of schools, too, or at least combine health- and wellness-ratings with academic performance. For example, in Illinois, this sample report card shows how schools will now be asked to report their efforts in the health and wellness of their students. The Healthy Schools Campaign would like it to go even further.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.