Student Accountability, Ownership, and Responsibility for School Safety

What is SOARS?

The purpose of project SOARS is to develop and test an intervention/comprehensive school safety framework for high schools that is student-centered, adapted to the realities of how students use technology to communicate, and designed to increase students’ resilience to school violence enablers.

The SOARS projects is based on the knowledge that high school students are a critical source of information for preventing violence in schools. Students often have knowledge about planned acts of violence and are also privy to complex peer dynamics that parents and teachers might not be aware of. Technology and the use of mobile phones play an important function in the communication amongst students. Student communications about violence/concerns are more likely to promote school safety if they occur within a restorative framework anchored in team-based problem-solving. We know that incidents of violence are often the result of long-term student victimization through bullying, harassment, or social isolation.

To meet the challenge of producing practical, and scientifically sound knowledge to improve school safety, project Soars will make student voices the central component of the intervention, develop an app and technology to increase communication about safety concerns within the school environment and provide training in restorative problem-solving to students and teachers.

Why are we developing this?

We believe that SOARS is likely to positively impact our knowledge base about how to reduce victimization of vulnerable students in high schools, how to implement a student web-based reporting tool in a restorative school environment that encourages student ownership, responsibility and accountability, and how to engage all stakeholders into a team-based approach to problem-solving identified threats to school safety.

It is also likely to impact practice within high schools whose students and school personnel are concerned about potential threats to school safety through the development of tangible tools including a problem-solving protocol for restoring relationships after a bullying incident, and a template for a values-based school-wide campaign to establish student buy-in and ownership of school safety.

Finally, we expect SOARS to impact policy recommendations by providing initial evidence for the feasibility of blending school-wide climate improvement with restorative discipline (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). These three areas (knowledge, practice, policy) will be impacted through dissemination of project outcomes in the following specific ways.

Knowledge gained from the proposed project will benefit researchers as well as practitioners and policy makers in both schooling and related contexts. We will disseminate project outcomes to these audiences via peer-reviewed articles in research journals. In addition, we will present project findings at professional. In collaboration with the National Institute of Justice, we will be offering webinars on our project findings, tools, products and recommendations based in our experiences and empirical outcomes.

Practical tools resulting from the SOARS project will benefit high school students, teachers, school staff and parents and will be disseminated via a project website. For example, teachers might find a web-mobile screener to assess student behavioral support needs useful for efficient data collection, as well as a tool to proactively initiate contact and conversation with parents; school-based student support teams might find a problem-solving protocol rooted in restorative justice helpful to implement restorative practices in the wake of identified threats to school safety; and students might benefit from a blueprint for developing a school-wide campaign that encourages students to take ownership of their school’s safety.

Policy recommendations warranted by our projects outcomes could assist Department of Justice and Department of Education personnel to formulate guidelines for specific practices. Our project might shed light on what strategies might work to integrate preventative and restorative practices into school climate improvement, how to merge data collection from multiple respondents (teachers, parents, students), and how to engage high school students to promote essential buy-in.

Specifically, our project’s findings might impact juvenile justice policy. Recently, there has been a trend towards restorative justice to hold juvenile offenders accountable for their actions and build the social competence that would allow them to return to their communities (McNeece & Ryan, 2014). Demonstrating effectiveness of restorative practices within school settings might encourage policy makers to move restorative justice “upstream” into high schools to resolve behaviors before they become severe enough for students to enter the justice system.

How we plan to reach the goal

Research Design

We will use an iterative mixed methods design to work closely with students, school personnel, and community stakeholders in developing an intervention package that (a) has maximal contextual fit with existing school policies and practices, (b) has maximal social validity, and (c) produces measurable change in students’ self-reported exposure to school violence enablers, student and teacher prevention efforts, and student and teacher responsiveness to behaviors of concern.

Our project activities include:

  • Conduct formative research
  • Focus groups with all stakeholder groups (students, parents, school personnel)
  • Develop a prototype of the SOARS app
  • Conduct user acceptance tests with all stakeholder groups (students, parents, school personnel)
  • Field-test the SOARS app
  • 4 teachers (and their students and their parents) in 1 high school in Springfield, OR
  • 4 teachers (and their students and their parents) in 1 high school in Illinois
  • Evaluate the SOARS app with a pilot study comparing intervention to control condition
  • All teachers, students, parents of 2 high schools in Springfield, OR (1 = intervention, 1 = control)
  • All teachers, students, parents of 2 high schools in Illinois (1 = intervention, 1 = control)

Project Timeline

timeline infographic
  • Year 1 (Jan 1, 2016 – Dec 31, 2016)
  • Conduct first wave of focus groups (students, teachers, parents): Jan – March
  • Develop blueprint of SOARS components: Apr – July
  • Conduct second wave of focus groups (students, teachers,parents): Sept – Nov
  • Refine blueprint of SOARS components
  • Year 2 (Jan 1, 2017 – Dec 31, 2017)
  • Build SOARS components at IRIS Media with SPS student interns: Jan - Dec
  • Conduct user acceptance tests with students, teachers, parents: Jan - Dec
  • Refine based on user feedback: Jan – Dec
  • Year 3 (Jan 1, 2018 – Dec 31, 2018)
  • Assemble intervention components: Jan – March
  • Recruit participants for field test: Jan - June
  • Begin conducting field test: Sept - Dec
  • Year 4 (Jan 1, 2019 – Dec 31, 2019)
  • Finish field test: Jan - Jun
  • Recruit participants for evaluation study: Jan - June
  • Begin evaluation study: Sept –Dec
  • Year 5 (Jan 1, 2020 – Dec 31, 2020)
  • Finish evaluation study: Jan - Jun
  • Evaluate outcomes
  • Provide intervention to control schools: Sept - Dec
outcomes board

To assure SOARS’ adoptability and potential to produce socially significant change in school safety, SOARS will use a social-ecological model to design, develop, and test the program components.

SOARS will collect the following measures and assessments to test the hypotheses that SOARS implementation will result in reductions in bullying/harassment, increased student ownership of school safety, responsibility for reporting behaviors of concern, and accountability for problem-solving behavioral incidents; as well as improvements to teacher and parent perceptions of school safety.

The following measures will be collected pre and post:

  1. Teacher & parent assessment of school safety using the Oregon School Safety Survey – to assess adult perceptions of risk and protective factors affecting school safety and violent behavior
  2. Student perceptions of school climate will be measured by adapting U.S. Department of Education’s ED School Climate Surveys (EDSCLS)
  3. Student experiences with bullying will be measured using the Peer Experiences Questionnaire to assess victimization and perpetration.
  4. Teacher and parent assessments of student behavior will be modeled after the Elementary School Behavior Assessment to assess positive and negative behaviors in the following domains: conduct problems, inattention-hyperactivity, emotional symptoms, peer problems and pro-social behavior.
  5. Student and teacher knowledge of key constructs presented in the video trainings will be measured using a test that covers the training content.
  6. Social validity of SOARS will be collected from students and teachers and will be measured using satisfaction items modeled after previous research by investigators (Rusby, Taylor, & Marques, 2004). These items will measure (a) engagement and interest, (b) comprehension and readability of messages, (c) acceptability of materials and content (d) ownership and language appropriateness, (e) access to and navigation through the components, and (f) persuasiveness.

Technology testing

  1. Testing actual use of the web/mobile communications tool prior to full implementation to make needed adjustments to the training and technologies to make it more accessible and usable for our stakeholders.
  2. Technology acceptance will be collected from students and teachers and will be assessed using an adaptation of the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) to examine user acceptance. TAM constructs include: perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, attitude, and behavioral intention to use Perceived use and perceived ease of use reflect a user’s beliefs and predict his or her attitude toward the technology, which in turn predicts its acceptance.

Fidelity of implementation

  1. We will use training video weblogs to assess participants’engagement with the training materials. We will also monitor reporting usage and provide implementation lists to record time spent on activities to assess engagement with the SOARS project.

About Us

research staff

Project Biographies

The project will be carried out by a multi-disciplinary group of researchers and media developers with substantial expertise in school safety, violence prevention, and delivery of interventions in authentic settings. This core team consists of the following individuals

Claudia Vincent, Ph.D., Principal Investigator.

Dr. Vincent’s research focuses on promoting positive and supportive student-teacher and peer relationships through disciplinary approaches that blend school-wide behavior support with restorative practices. Her interests lie in developing school-wide systems and practices that promote students’ active participation in the shaping of their school’s culture and safety, rather than passive compliance with school rules. Dr. Vincent’s work focuses especially on providing vulnerable students, e.g. students from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds, with a disability, or who identify as non-heterosexual, with the means to make their voices heard. She has written and presented extensively on behavioral support implementation in schools, and has experience with developing training materials for teachers with a focus on restorative problem-solving. She has served as co-principal investigator on IES and NIH funded projects.

Hill Walker, Ph.D.Co-Principal Investigator.

Dr. Walker is a Senior Research Scientist at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, Oregon, as well as the founder and current co-director of the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior (IVDB) at the University of Oregon. The IVDB dates from 1993 and its mission is to address violence prevention in school and community contexts. The IVDB serves as the lead agency in school safety for the state of Oregon. A major focus of the IVDB’s activities and work has been on creating positive schooling ecologies in which marginalized students are detected early on in the trajectories of their at-risk behavior, their problems addressed and their needs supported, which has been a central focus of Dr. Walker’s career. Dr. Walker was one of 25 professionals invited to participate in a National Consortium by the U.S. Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, following the Thurston and Columbine school shootings, to develop guidelines for insuring school safety. The resulting document was distributed to all 125,000 U.S. public schools. Dr. Walker also served for eight years as a PI in the Hamilton-Fish Consortium on School Safety that was funded by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Dorothy Espelage, Ph.D. Co-Principal Investigator.

Dr. Espelage is the Edward William Gutgsell & Jane Marr Gutgsell Endowed Professor and Hardie Scholar of Education within the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has conducted highly acclaimed research on bullying, homophobic teasing, sexual harassment, dating violence, and gang violence for the last 20 years. She is regularly invited to present her work at regional, national, and international conferences and is author of over 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and 25 chapters. Her research focuses on translating empirical findings into prevention and intervention programming. She just completed a CDC-funded study that included a randomized clinical trial of a social emotional learning prevention program in 36 middle schools to reduce aggression. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is funding her to track these students to examine whether these effects remain as they navigate the challenges of high school and the risks of adolescence. CDC is funding another RCT of this program in order to allow a comparative analysis with a gender-enhanced social-emotional program in 32 Illinois middle schools. The National Science Foundation funded her to develop a social-sensing game to study aggression among adolescents. NIJ also funded a longitudinal study of predictors of bullying and dating violence among adolescents. Dr. Espelage chaired a national taskforce that recently concluded a comprehensive study and review of the literature on student violence against school staff. The taskforce report has proven highly influential and will likely have a strong impact on federal policy in dealing with this increasing problem.

Brion Marquez.Co-Investigator.

Mr. Marquez is the director of development at IRIS Educational Media and is an experienced instructional designer and principal investigator. He has served on many NIH and IES-funded grant projects. He is currently principal investigator on three IES development grants in the social-behavioral field. During his career, Mr. Marquez has collaborated effectively with research scientists to conduct translational research and has developed over 50 video, multimedia and Internet-based training programs for teachers, students, parents, and professionals based on that research. Many of his programs have received national recognition and awards and cover topics such as classroom management, student social skill competency, parent education, and professional development. Mr Marquez has published in peer-reviewed journals and contributed to books on school-based interventions. In June 2014, he received the prestigious Tibbetts Award for his work in translational research and technology transfer, as well as recognition for his long-standing success in bringing evidence-based programs to the marketplace in commercially viable forms.

Christopher Murray, Ph.D., Co-Investigator.

Dr. Murray’s research and teaching is focused on understanding factors and processes associated with positive adjustment and outcomes among vulnerable students, especially students with disabilities who are exposed to high levels of stress within urban environments. His extensive experience as a school staff member in schools that serve diverse populations of at-risk students in the Chicago School System has provided him with critical knowledge and insights that will enhance the applicability and generalizability of SOARS. Dr. Murray is also a highly skilled researcher and an expert in the formation and dynamics of teacher-student relationships. He is particularly interested in implementing and evaluating school-based programs/practices that enhance social supports and social relationships in the lives of students with disabilities from high-poverty backgrounds. Before entering higher education, Dr. Murray served as a special education teacher in high schools serving students from racially diverse and low socio-economic backgrounds. He will bring multiple sources of knowledge and skills to our core team in our efforts to enhance the safety and security of schools through providing students with a voice in this process. Dr. Murray is also an accomplished scholar and has published extensively in the literature on disability.

Jordan Pennefather, Ph.D., Methodologist.

Dr. Pennefather is an experienced researcher, methodologist, and data analyst who will play a lead role in evaluating the SOARS program components as well as pilot-testing of the entire intervention package. He has extensive experience in experimental methodology and statistical analysis as well as in program evaluation using a diverse range of measurement tools, methods and strategies. He has a broad background in psychology, with additional, specialized training in experimental design and implementation. He has worked as a methodologist on a number of National Institute of Health (NIH) as well as Institute of Educational Science (IES) development grants leading instrument development and testing as well as all data analytical activities.

Who is sponsoring us?

Project SOARS is a 5-year project (Jan 1, 2016 – Dec 31, 2020).
Project SOARS is a Cooperative Agreement that will require close collaboration between the funder and IRIS Ed

  • Project SOARS is funded
  • By the National Institutes of Justice/Department of Justice
  • Under the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative
  • With Award # 2015-MU-MU-K003
  • Project SOARS is awarded to
  • IRIS Educational Media in Eugene, OR

Who works with us?

  • University of Florida
  • University of Oregon
  • Illinois School District
  • Oregon School District
  • IRIS Educational Media

Advisory Board Profiles

The Advisory Board represents deep knowledge, experience and expertise in the areas of school leadership, management and administration, school safety, social service agencies serving at-risk youth, the juvenile court, youth development services, management of school district-based research, police, mental health, and family perspectives.

Doug Harcleroad (Chair)

Mr. Harcleroad served as District Attorney for Lane County, Oregon for 23 consecutive years. He is the best- known and one of the most respected professionals in Lane County in connection with at-risk youth and juvenile crime.

Stan Paine, Ph.D.

Dr. Paine currently coordinates the Administrator Licensure Program in the College of Education at the University of Oregon, and has served as a highly successful school principal in the Pleasant Hill and Springfield school districts in Oregon. His areas of professional interest are in effective school leadership and school systems.

Craig Opperman

Mr Opperman is the President and CEO of Looking Glass Youth and Family Services in Eugene, OR. His work focuses on serving youth in crisis due to abuse, homelessness, mental health challenges, and truancy from school.

George Russell, Ph.D.

Dr. Russell served as Superintendent of the Eugene 4J School District in Eugene Oregon for 13 years where a major focus of his administration was ensuring equity of opportunity for students. He also served in senior executive leadership roles in school districts in San Diego, Seattle, and Oklahoma.

Kip Leonard

Mr. Leonard served as Lane County Circuit Court Judge for 25 years. He also practiced general law, served as Eugene’s city prosecutor and heard cases in local municipal courts before his appointment as a regular district court judge. He is best known for his judicial work with delinquent and at-risk youth within Lane County, Oregon.

Jamon Kent

Mr. Kent is affiliated with the Lane Council of Governments and was the superintendent of schools in Springfield, OR during the Thurston High School Shooting incident in 1998 perpetrated by Kip Kinkle. Mr. Kent was a major contributor to the Clinton Administration’s policy and initiatives to address school shooting tragedies across the country.

Keith Hollenbeck, Ph.D.

Dr. Hollenbeck is the Director of Administrative Licensure Programs in the University of Oregon’s College of Education. Dr. Hollenbeck served for a number of years as the Director of Research for the Springfield, OR school district and brings a deep knowledge of how to conduct effective research within ongoing school district operations.

Chief Kerns

Chief Kerns of the Eugene Police Department has broad knowledge of the safety needs of our community. He is a strong advocate of community policing and is highly respected by professionals working with the adolescent population in Eugene and Lane Country.

Elise Crum

Elise Crum is a parent of adopted culturally diverse children attending public school. She is highly engaged in all school activities and a strong advocate for school safety as well as student involvement.

Andre Le Duc

Andre Le Duc is the Associate Vice President and Chief Resilience Officer at the University of Oregon. His professional career and academic research is focused on the development of community and organizational resilience. He provides leadership, expertise, and guidance on a variety of topics related to risk management, occupational health and safety, and emergency management.

Brianna Stiller, PhD.

Dr. Stiller is a behavior consultant and Director of School District Positive Behavior Support programs. She led the creation and adoption of a Eugene school district policy to specifically protect transgender and gender non-conforming students.


  • Claudia’s presentations