School climate isn’t just about safety; it’s about how it feels to be on the campus and how it feels to be a member of the school’s community.
The first question to ask your school’s staff is “How do you create a healthy campus climate?” The answer to this question can tell you a lot about the school’s values and priorities.
Take a look around
The best way to get a sense for the school climate is to go to the school yourself. Always be sure to make an appointment with the principal before you visit a school. After you’ve spent some time there, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you feel comfortable on the school grounds?
- Do you feel that there are adequate precautions in place to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering the school?
- Do the students and staff seem to be respectful of and engaged with each other?
- Is the campus tidy? Do you see excessive amounts of litter on the grounds, in the hallways, or in the classrooms?
- Do you see signs of vandalism or graffiti?
- What’s the condition of the restrooms and cafeteria?
While you’re on campus, talk with the principal, teachers, and students. Ask students if they feel safe at school and if they feel safe on the way to and from school. Do students get the feeling that adults in the school community know them and care about them? What do teachers and students think about some of the programs or philosophies that the school has established to deal with school safety issues? The physical condition of the campus can also tell a lot about the attitude of the people who spend their days there.
In the past decade, many schools have taken special measures to strengthen discipline at school. You will want to learn which procedures and policies your school has adopted to create a safe environment for students and staff. Questions to ask include:
- Is there a dress code? What are its provisions?
- Do students wear uniforms?
- Does the school have a code of conduct? How do students learn about disciplinary policies?
- Are students involved in setting rules or expectations of behavior? If so, how?
- Does the school use metal detectors or employ security guards?
You may also want to investigate your school district’s policy on weapons. Many schools have become very strict with regard to this particular issue.
When numbers don’t add up
While many parents ask to see data about the suspensions and expulsions at a school, it’s difficult to draw quick or simple conclusions from these numbers. A high rate of suspensions or expulsions may indicate that a school is more serious than most about cracking down on discipline problems to maintain an environment suitable for teaching and learning. Or perhaps it means that the school is relatively quick to send away students who pose modest challenges to authority. If you’re concerned about a number that seems high (or unusually low), you’ll want to ask the principal about it. Remember: statistics are not answers in themselves; rather, they are useful tools to help you discover the right questions to ask.