MA DESE releases 3rd Annual Report of the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has publicly released the third annual report of the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission (Commission). The Commission, co-chaired by TLPI’s Director Susan Cole, is established by MGL ch. 69, sec. 1P to “develop a statewide safe and supportive schools framework [and] . . . make recommendations on the feasibility of implementing this framework statewide.”

TLPI is pleased to share this third annual report, which summarizes the Commission’s charge and duties and articulates a vision of ensuring that every school in the Commonwealth has the support it needs to cultivate a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. The report also outlines five recommendations the Commission has made to the Legislature and the Governor in order to make progress on achieving the vision contained in the statute, summarized below:

Recommendation 1: The Commission recommends continued funding for the Safe and Supportive Schools line item (7061-9612) in the fiscal year 2018-2019 (FY19) budget.

Recommendation 2: Provide resources for capacity building at the district and school levels to support the creation of safe and supportive school cultures.

A.The Commission recommends that the state policymakers carry out the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission and increase state funding to schools

B. The Commission recommends that state and local policymakers consider how to make existing and additional resources more accessible to help school districts establish and maintain the capacity at the district level to manage the process of systems change to create and maintain safe and supportive school cultures, in a way that best meets local needs

The Commission also recommends that state and local policymakers consider how to remove barriers and make additional resources available to help schools establish and maintain the capacity to prioritize time for school staff to meet for collaborative planning and reflection time, for training and professional development, and for cultivating and including student leadership that can help inform and drive the culture change needed to create safe and supportive schools.

C. The Commission recommends that the Department hold a series of convenings, such as leadership summits across the Commonwealth designed to help superintendents and principals develop and enhance skills for leading the process of strengthening safe and supportive school and district cultures.

The Commission also recommends that the Department help educators and other types of school leaders to further develop their skills for facilitating safe and supportive school culture change. The Commission recommends the Department do this through state conferences, sharing promising practices, creating learning materials for educators and administrators, providing technical assistance to schools, and hosting a professional learning community.

At all points the Commission recommends that the Department maintain a focus on engaging students, families, and communities in this work. The Commission and leaders in the field can learn from their input and engagement, to help inform the planning of these opportunities and in order to help maximize the effectiveness

Recommendation 3: The Commission recommends continued and increased prioritization of safe and supportive schools at the Department.

A. The Commission recommends that the Department update and revise the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework (from 1999), and intentionally consider and convey the connection and alignment to the updated safe and supportive schools framework.

B.The Commission recommends that the Department continue to develop and provide additional guidance documents and technical assistance regarding the safe and supportive schools framework and self-assessment tool for schools and districts, as well as encouragement to use these guidance documents.

The Commission also recommends that the Department pilot, with current grantees, a process for integrating safe and supportive schools action plans with school and district improvement plans, and that this work informs further refinement of guidance and resources to others.

C. The Commission recommends that the Department engage in and support information gathering efforts from stakeholders and grantees, such as through focus groups, surveys, and interviews. The goal is for these efforts to continue to inform the Commission’s recommendations regarding the capacity schools need to implement the framework; to access culturally, linguistically, and clinically appropriate services; and to revise the framework and self-assessment tool, including but not limited to, ways to include principles for effective practice related to integrating student supports.

D. The Commission recommends that the Department investigate ways to increasingly use safe and supportive schools related metrics to inform measures of school quality and student success.

The Commission recommends that school climate surveys and social and emotional learning assessments be used as a tool for self-reflection and improvement and response by individual schools and districts, and cautions against what may be unintended consequences of using them for purposes of comparison with other districts or accountability ratings.

The Commission further recommends that the Department, in order to communicate its commitment to safe and supportive schools, explores avenues for giving schools credit toward improving their school quality ratings if they demonstrate work contributing to improving school climate and culture

E. The Commission recommends the Department embed the message of the importance of safe and supportive schools and the critical role they play in ensuring educational success for all students into the planned “Leading the Nation” celebrations and events commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the state’s 1993 Education Reform Act.

Recommendation 4: The Commission recommends that in order to better support family engagement in schools, state and local policymakers address the need for increased availability of quality translators and interpreters for families across the Commonwealth.

Recommendation 5: The Commission recommends a messaging campaign emphasizing the importance of safe and supportive schools.

In addition to these recommendations, the report also lists critical next steps the Commission is considering undertaking in 2018 “that will inform and determine future recommendations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Legislature.” These next steps include:

  • The Commission will work with the Department and Board, as appropriate, to advise and continuously refine the development of the safe and supportive schools framework. The goal is for the Department to make an updated framework available for use during the 2018-2019 school year.
  • The Commission will continue to collaborate with the Department as it pilots and refines the guidance developed with the Commission in 2017 for incorporating locally tailored action plans developed through the use of the self-assessment tool into school and district improvement plans using the Department’s Planning for Success approach.
  • The Commission will collaborate with the Department in gathering information as the Commission considers making recommendations regarding access to clinically, culturally, and linguistically appropriate services. The Commission will also address concerns raised by stakeholders in the 2017 focus groups through recommendations to 1) address capacity at the school level to coordinate these services within the school and with outside agencies, and 2) to add to efforts to identify service gaps. The Commission will also focus on how schools and districts can better link with and integrate community-based services as appropriate, building from its initial set of principles sent to the Board in January 2018, following the requirement to do so in the state’s FY18 budget.
  • The Commission will assist the Department in gathering information from Safe and Supportive Schools grantees about their successes and challenges and from other stakeholders. This information can help guide the Department as it develops professional learning materials that respond to stakeholders’ specific requests for materials to enhance school/district capacity to lead the process of creating safe and supportive schools.
  • The Commission will work with the Department to develop written materials that delineate the relationship between safe and supportive schools cultures and academic success. These materials will articulate how building a safe and supportive school culture fits with the many other initiatives in the Department and to help create the context, and vision that underlies the safe and supportive schools work so that schools understand why safe and supportive schools are needed.
  • The Commission will work with the Department on holding leadership summits to prioritize work to create safe and supportive environments, provide leaders with the tools to lead professional development to staff, and assist the Department with the development of materials.
  • The Commission will provide advice to the Department on revising the Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework
  • The Commission will provide advice and participate in discussions with the Department as it investigates ways to increasingly use safe and supportive schools measures as indicators of school quality and student success.
  • Commission Members will engage in outreach to represented organizations and other stakeholder groups, and participate in public relations campaigns.

For more information, please visit DESE’s web page devoted to Safe and Supportive Schools and the work of the Commission.

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