From 2016 to 2020, a group of public schools and public charter schools in Washington, DC participated in the “Improving School Climate in DC” project (ISC-DC). ISC-DC was supported by a grant from the  National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) under the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, and aimed to evaluate whether supporting schools through a research-based framework (Safe School Certification; SSC) could improve students’ perceptions of school climate and reduce incidents of violence. SSC is not a structured program; rather, the framework consists of eight key elements that underscore a data-based decision-making and program implementation process: leadership, data, buy-in, policy and policy enforcement, student engagement, parent and community engagement, training, and programs. As part of the process, key stakeholders and experts formed an independent Certification Advisory Board (CAB) to assess schools’ progress in achieving key milestones for each component, provide feedback, and provide opportunities to obtain grant funding. The CAB had a birds-eye view of what schools were doing and how they found innovative ways to achieve each element, and of the common struggles and pitfalls that schools faced. The CAB also focused on ensuring that schools’ efforts were grounded within an equity lens to ensure that all students would benefit.

This toolkit is intended to benefit educators, administrators, and community members interested in creating safer, more supportive, and more equitable learning environments at their schools. The toolkit provides a series of tipsheets that cover each element of the SSC framework, along with summaries of how schools participating in ISC-DC approached each element, based on the CAB’s review of the workbooks each school submitted as part of the SSC process. Each tipsheet provides a series of “do’s” and mis-directions, as well as critical questions to consider when applying an equity lens for each element. The toolkit specifically reflects—and is tailored for—the DC school context and includes a list of local resources that can support schools in this process. Still, the toolkit’s strategies are applicable for any school looking to improve their learning environment.

Although ISC-DC took place before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools may find this toolkit particularly useful for establishing a process to identify and implement new strategies and supports that reflect current student needs. The same programs and procedures in place before the pandemic may not be effective to meet schools’ current realities. This toolkit provides strategies for schools to identify needs through data, build buy-in, and engage the full school community in decision making to help ensure that programs and practices fit current needs, are equitable, and ultimately improve school climate.


This toolkit was supported by Award No. 2015-CK-BX-0016, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.