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Climate change: Kat Raczynski helps district set course for improved social-emotional development

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Kat Raczynski, director of the Safe and Welcoming Schools project in the University of Georgia College of Education, became the Clarke County School District's district-wide professor-in-residence for school climate in fall 2015. Given that social-emotional development is one of the three focus areas for the district's new superintendent, Demond Means, the school climate expertise she brings to the partnership is a great fit.

"I'm excited to see how the social-emotional component of Dr. Means' vision develops as we all work to put supports in place that are best for kids," Raczynski said.

Her work is wide-ranging, with a focus on systems and processes that ensure that Clarke County students are getting the support they need for social and emotional growth.

Raczynski works closely with school climate data, such as attendance and discipline records, and surveys of parents, teachers, and students. "I really like gathering and analyzing in-depth quantitative and qualitative data that can inform administrator decision-making," Raczynski said.

Her projects also include targeted work as requested by schools, such as serving on teams for "positive behavioral interventions and support," a framework to support all members of the school community and address school climate through effective use of data, systems and practices. Within these teams, she is involved in action planning, setting priorities and monitoring progress toward school climate goals.

Raczynski is also a member of the district leadership team for positive behavioral interventions and support, and works closely with Dawn Meyers, associate superintendent of policy and school support services, among others.

"From helping to review policies around bullying, attendance, and discipline to working with schools around school climate and culture, Dr. Raczynski brings resources and feedback that strengthen our schools and our district," said Meyers. "Her district-wide and systemic framework for safe and welcoming schools fits beautifully with where we are headed as a district. We are so fortunate to have her on our team."

One of the initiatives Raczynski started, together with former Clarke Central High School student Jasia Clark, is the Districtwide Bullying Prevention Essay Contest. Students in grades 6-12 write essays about Clarke County School District employees who create spaces where bullying doesn't occur. More than 120 essays have been submitted to the contest during the past two years.

"This contest celebrates successes and what is going right," said Raczynski. "My favorite part is sending all of the students' essays back to the people who were nominated—it's very meaningful." Raczynski also frequently leads professional learning on bullying prevention, creating welcoming classrooms and schools, and social-emotional learning. For UGA pre-service teachers, she shares her expertise on building relationships in classrooms and making connections with students.

"I love doing professional learning with teachers, especially on these types of topics," she added. "Focusing on the strengths teachers have is refreshing and meaningful."

Prior to become a professor-in-residence, Raczynski had been asked to launch a pilot project to provide resources and support for the school district on school climate issues, working primarily with two elementary schools (Gaines and Alps Road) and two middle schools (Clarke Middle and Hilsman). After a year, administrators invited her to share her expertise district-wide, so joining the Professional Development School District partnership was the natural next step.

"I was thrilled to become of a part of the PDSD as professor-in-residence—it gave me a community in which to do my work, which has strengthened all that I do," she said.

As director of Safe and Welcoming Schools at the College of Education, Raczynski's broader mission focuses on research and outreach around creating positive school environments. She describes the work as "outward and community-facing with a focus on equity." This October, the sixth annual Safe and Welcoming Schools conference took place in Athens with more than 100 participants from across the state.

Raczynski also teaches graduate-level research methods and assessment classes, serves as a school climate specialist for the Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agencies and contributes to research projects at the UGA College of Education's Center for Latino Achievement and Success in Education.

Raczynski earned three degrees from the UGA College of Education—her B.S.Ed. in social studies education and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in educational psychology (quantitative methods program). Since then, she has served the College in various roles, including working closely with former Dean Arthur M. Horne on bullying before it became an issue commonly discussed in schools. This year, she received the College's Arthur M. Horne Faculty Award for Community Engagement and Research, which is given to faculty who are engaged in work that affects the community.

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