Publication Date

Summer 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)




Elena Klaw


Alternative Education, Focus Groups, School Climate, School Culture, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma Informed Care

Subject Areas

Educational leadership


This study was a qualitative action research project that involved focus groups of key stakeholders at an alternative education high school including: students, teaching staff, classified staff, supervisors, families, and collaborative partners. A semi-structured interview guide was used to discover their perceptions of a school culture and climate where students FLOURISH. The word FLOURISH is used in this research to describe the optimal experience of thriving and growing as well as an acronym that contains the elements that a literature review found to be important for such environments serving the most vulnerable student populations. This type of research is especially important in light of the recent transformation to educational planning and finance in California called LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) and its creation of the Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) with their mandate for stakeholder input. Finally, and most importantly, emerging research shows schools that improve their culture and climate can counter the “school to prison pipeline” effect so often experienced by vulnerable youth in the alternative education system. Both systematic analysis and a constructivist approach were used in coding and memoing to track the presence of existing themes from the literature review and to capture new ones emerging from the transcripts. Leadership, systems, equity and implementation implications were explored as secondary questions. Findings included the generation of a new model, coined The 5Rs Cycle – Resources, Regulation, Relationships, Relevance & Rigor, which captured the essential elements found in the literature review along with the myriad themes produced by the focus groups.