Background/Context: Much of the literature on school–university research partnerships has focused on collaborations that address curriculum, instruction, and leadership. Less scholarly attention has been paid to how practitioners and academics work together to improve school climate.
Purpose: We seek to deepen understanding of how educators and researchers collaborate to address aspects of the campus environment that matter to students’ learning. We discuss findings from the first year of a long-term research alliance—between a university research center, a high school, and one of its feeder K–8 school districts—focused on improving school climate. First, we report results from our analysis of students’ responses to a schoolwide survey. Then, we examine the affordances and challenges at every stage of the investigative process, highlighting factors critical to school–university research alliances.
Research Design: We analyzed students’ school climate survey responses in one low-income predominantly Latino high school (n = 1,606). We linked students’ survey data to their administrative records and employed logistic regression modeling to determine the extent to which students’ school climate perceptions were associated to their educational outcomes. We also analyzed the cohort of students who matriculated to the high school from the nearby elementary school feeder district to see whether the middle-to-high-school transition shifted their views on the school environment.
Findings: Males, students in Grade 11, and those with at least one suspension reported fewer positive experiences on campus relative to their peers. Also, the middle-to-high-school transition had a positive influence on students who reported low average perceptions of care in their middle school. Reflecting on the partnership process, we found that responding promptly to the concerns of stakeholders helped establish credibility and trust. Open and frequent communication was also essential to maintain focus, sustain commitment, and ensure the longevity of the alliance. Further, allowing partners to contribute and make decisions throughout the analysis helped ensure that all perspectives were considered, thus increasing the validity of research findings.
Conclusions/Recommendations: School–university collaborations can be challenging to maintain. This study suggests that reforming school climate is a long-term participatory process that demands significant resources and ongoing engagement from both researchers and practitioners. By providing a thorough examination of the give and take, ups and downs, and stops and starts of a school–university research alliance, we aim to identify elements that can help partnerships succeed and provide rich evidence that can serve as a foundation for further inquiry.