NIJ's CSSI Grant Research

Investigating the effectiveness of the school security climate on student connectedness and school performance

Comprehensive School Safety Initiative

Current school safety research rarely considers the school security climate as a product of the simultaneous implementation of several school safety interventions. This is potentially problematic for our understanding of school safety, as schools seldom employ only one safety intervention. Rather, they employ several interventions simultaneously to keep their school safe. The purpose of this study is to investigate different school security climates with the aim of identifying effective climates and examining student growth within these climates. The study seeks to identify the most effective type of school security climate and measure how the school security climate affects student connectedness and ultimately student academic performance.

A cohort of high school level students within high schools in the Newark Public School District in Newark, New Jersey will be the focus of this research.

More about NIJ's Comprehensive School Safety Initiative

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**This page will be updated as the study progresses.


Research Bios

Matthew Cuellar

Dr. Matthew Cuellar - Dr. Cuellar is Principal Investigator and will oversee all planning and implementation of the project. Dr. Cuellar will coordinate with the National Institute of Justice as well as Newark Public School System and Newark Board of Education to ensure successful project completion.

Dr. Cuellar received his MSW from the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama in 2013, where he gained practice experience working in a juvenile court system as a Mental Health Consultant. Dr. Cuellar received his PhD from the College of Social Work at University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2016, where he also received a Minor in Statistics from the Department of Statistics and Business Analytics (Haslam School of Business) after successfully completing the Intercollegiate Graduate Statistics Program (IGSP).

Dr. Cuellar’s scholarly focus is on school safety and promoting student development and equal opportunity in United States school systems. His current research investigates the dynamic processes concerning the effects of school safety on student performance and development; processes that are critical to meeting the Grand Challenge of Ensuring Healthy Development of All Youth. Dr. Cuellar has published over a dozen peer-reviewed articles on the topic of school safety and has delivered countless workshops and symposia on school programming and practice evaluation in school systems. His research has assisted school administrators, mental healthcare providers, and other personnel across the United States in targeting and implementing interventions that can improve student performance while maintaining a safe and nurturing learning environment.

Dr. Cuellar has worked with hundreds of masters- and doctoral-level students as instructor, advisor, and mentor. He also has extensive experience teaching Research Methods, Introductory and Advanced Quantitative Methods, Systematic Planning and Evaluation for Interpersonal Practice, School Social Work, Evidence-Based Practice, and Child and Family Welfare at the graduate level.

Dr. Charles Auerbach

Dr. Charles Auerbach - Dr. Auerbach is a full professor and Chair of Research at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work (employed since 1988), and was a Visiting Professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 2005-2007.  In addition to his academic work, he has most recently been a research consultant for Long Island Jewish Medical Center (since 1999), where he developed and continue to maintain a patient information system, develop risk assessment protocols, and conduct program evaluations.  He has also been a Research Scholar at The University at Albany’s Research Foundation from 2001 to 2010.

Dr. Auerbach was the lead evaluator for two U.S. Children’s Bureau-funded longitudinal studies on recruitment and retention of child welfare workers for the past ten years through the New York State Social Work Education. As a result of this research, he has become a leading authority in workforce issues in child welfare, cross-site evaluations, examining system change over time, and research methodology. His publications in this area are often cited. Additionally, he has conducted a number of evaluations for the Administration for Children Services (ACS), New York City's public child welfare system, which have involved both quantitative and qualitative research designs, including the conducting of focus groups.

As a statistician, Dr. Auerbach previously developed statistical software, SINGWIN (Auerbach, Schnall, & Heft-LaPorte, 2009) specifically for the evaluation of professional social work practice. The software has been published with a text entitled Evaluating Practice: Guidelines for the Accountable Professional (Bloom, Fischer, & Orme, 2009) and is used in schools of social work and in direct social work practice throughout the country.  He has recently co-developed an open-source, a software package, SSD for R, for the R statistical environment that is specifically designed to analyze single-subject data.  Dr. Auerbach's unique combination of educational, research methodology, and statistical analysis experience makes him a valuable asset to this project.

Dr. Susan Mason

Dr. Susan Mason - A professor of Social Work and Sociology at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University. She is the former Editor of the journal, Families in Society, published by the Alliance for Strong families and Communities. She has published extensively in the fields of schizophrenia, cultural diversity, health and hospital practice, and social work education. Dr. Mason has worked on multiple program evaluation projects in gerontology, schools and communities, and child welfare. Her book "School-Linked Services: Promoting Equity for Children,Families and Communities" was published by Columbia University Press in 2016. The book focuses on bringing social and health services into the public schools to enhance student academic success. Dr. Mason has authored Community Health Care in Cuba ( 2010, Lyceum) and Diagnosis Schizophrenia (2002; 20011, Columbia). Currently, Dr. Mason is working on projects that include addressing hearing disabilities in young children, children’s rights in child welfare hearings, and understanding the dynamics of bullying in children.

In addition, Dr. Mason remains committed to social work practice and teaches a number of practice courses at Wurzweiler, including Evidence-based Mental Health Practice, the New York State curriculum that she co-authored. She serves on the Council of Social Work Education's Policy Commission, and was recently elected as a Delegate to the National Convention for NASW, New York City.

Dr Mason holds a PhD, and an MSW from Columbia University, and a Masters in Public Administration New York University. She is also certified as a graduate of Washington Square Institute in psychoanalytic psycho therapy and is a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine. Dr. Mason has devoted her career to teaching and writing about helping vulnerable clients live satisfying and productive lives.

Graduate Research Assistants:

Frank Fuentes is a graduate of the Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. School of Social Worker and have earned LMSW since May of 2003. Prior to earning LMSW, he had worked as a teacher for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing for the NYC DOE. Throughout his studies and practice, as a Bilingual School Social Worker for the NYC Department of Education, he has worked with people of all ages, religious/philosophical beliefs, and sexual orientation. Working with the LGBTQ community as part of his training and years of part-time employment in after-school programs and community centers, he is very familiar with the nuances and challenges of daily and experiential choices and what teenaged and young adult members face and how they resolve. As a social worker/educator, he has extensive experience working with clients who have suffered from one or more traumatic experiences in their lives and struggle with their anxieties. Frankie's practice also includes coaching and leading groups of survivors of incest, rape, and domestic violence.

Michelle Bialeck is a PhD candidate at the Wurzweiler School of Social Welfare.  For over a decade she has worked developing and directing programs to support teens and immigrant families in New York City as well as in Connecticut, Ohio, Florida, and Ireland. Michelle looks forward to pursuing research that will lead to greater persistence in higher education for first generation college-goers as well as first generation Americans. 

Rain Lee is a MSW/Ph.D. candidate at Yeshiva University, Wurzweiler School of Social Work.  His research interests include understanding how social activity and perspectives about aging influence older adults.  He is also interested in end-of-life care issues, including hospice and palliative care with a specific interest in determining factors that contribute terminally ill patients to chose hospitalization over hospice or palliative care.