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Learning How Student Safety Coaches Create Safe and Productive Schools

Like many school districts across the nation and Minnesota, Intermediate School District 287 (ISD 287) had contracted with police departments to have police officers (called “School Resource Officers”) in school buildings. However, ISD 287 ended those contracts and in 2017-2018 and began using district employees titled “Student Safety Coaches” to build positive relationships with students and staff, intervene in difficult moments and promote safety in district buildings.

Multiple methods to evaluate impact

Since the 2014–2015 school year, Wilder Research has been working with ISD 287 to evaluate and better understand some of the techniques the district uses to build social-emotional skills and resolve conflicts, including restorative practices. In 2019, the focus was specifically on the Student Safety Coach Program and included creating an evaluation plan, collecting initial data about the program during the 2019-20 school year, learning how the program was working so far and identifying areas for improvement.

The evaluation included multiple approaches to gathering information. Wilder Research facilitated meetings with the District Restorative Justice Lead, Assistant Director of Mental Health and Critical Incidents and Student Safety Coach Leads to create a logic model that would serve as a framework for evaluating the program. Since the move away from using police officers in school and using other means of behavior intervention is relatively new, Wilder Research reviewed literature to examine why schools decide to stop using police officers in school and any emerging promising practices for school-based safety coaches. Finally, Wilder Research developed an online survey that was given to district staff to understand their perceptions about the impact of the Student Safety Coach Program and possible areas for improvement.

Promising practices and areas for improvement

The literature review identified common concerns with police officers in schools, including research that showed police officers in school are unrelated to school safety, but are related to harmful outcomes, including decreased school connectedness, a higher likelihood of exclusionary school discipline practices and increased racial inequities not explained by students’ behavior.

Key findings from the staff survey found that Student Safety Coaches (SSCs) build positive relationships and collaborate with students and staff, respond to and help de-escalate critical situations, create a safe place for students who are struggling, help students practice positive behaviors and contribute to a safe and productive learning environment. Opportunities for improvement mentioned by staff included increased clarification of the role of SSCs, adding more SSCs throughout the buildings, and providing them with more support and training.

Putting what we learned into action

Two strategies were identified to continue to improve the Student Safety Coach Program. First, staff, students and families need help to better understand the roles, responsibilities and methods of engagement of the SSCs. Communications could also include sharing the literature review and study findings about police presence in schools and how to improve school safety and the district’s methods to create safety and intervene in undesirable student behavior. Additionally, research about the SSC program should continue to understand its impacts, strengths and opportunities for improvement. Next steps for research could include reviewing incident report data, surveys or interviews with students or families and/or interviews with district staff and leadership.

ISD 287 presented study findings at an all-district meeting in summer 2020. The team is looking at some of Wilder’s recommendations, including refining the SSC job description and training teachers and staff on SSC roles and responsibilities.

In 2021, ISD 287 asked Wilder Research to conduct a literature review on removing metal detectors from schools and build a plan to include student and family voice in an evaluation of Student Safety Coaches.

Learn more about Wilder Research's work with ISD 287 on restorative practices.

Key findings from the staff survey found that Student Safety Coaches build positive relationships and collaborate with students and staff, respond to and help de-escalate critical situations, create a safe place for students who are struggling, help students practice positive behaviors and contribute to a safe and productive learning environment.

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