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The School Development Program (SDP) is a process for improving schools that is designed to help schools focus their operations around effective child development and successful teaching and learning. The School Development Program puts the development of all children at the center of the educational process. All adult stakeholders in Comer schools—administrators, teachers, support staff, and parents—are actively involved in creating an environment that nurtures both students and adults. The following characteristics are common to schools that have fully implemented the Comer Process.

Characteristics of a Comer School:

  • Positive Student-Teacher Relations—Teachers and other adult stakeholders interact and collaborate with students in and out of the classroom in order to address a broad array of developmental needs;
  • Supportive Parent-School Interactions—Parents are formally brought into the daily life of the school via parent teams, social programs, and participation in school governance;
  • Focus on Mental Health and Child Development—The Student and Staff Support Team uses collaboration among school psychologists, social workers, special education teachers and other professionals to ensure a supportive school and classroom environment and coordinated services to students with special needs;
  • Effective Planning and Problem Solving—The School Planning and Management Team collaborates with the principal on all policy decisions and the Student and Staff Support Team provides a resource for establishing a positive school-wide climate, assisting teachers with classroom management, and addressing individual student needs;
  • Child-Centered Curriculum—Teachers collaborate on classroom activities and individual student needs. Classroom curriculum is aligned across subject matter, grade level, and student performance standards.

The Comer Process

The School Development Program was established in 1968 by Dr. James P. Comer as a joint effort between Yale University and the New Haven Public Schools.  To help in developing a more productive and inclusive school climate, Dr. Comer has developed a process that overcomes obstacles to parent and community participation, promotes collaboration among all adult stakeholders around school management, and utilizes an approach to instruction that is informed by child development principles and curriculum alignment. The Comer Process uses three teams, three operations, and three guiding principles that make up its process for school improvement.

Three Teams:

  • School Planning and Management Team (SPMT);
  • Student and Staff Support Team (SSST);
  • Parent Team (PT).

Three Operations:

  • Comprehensive School Plan;
  • Staff Development;
  • Ongoing Assessment and Modification of the School Program.

Three Guiding Principles:

  • Collaboration;
  • Consensus Decision Making;
  • "No-Fault" Problem Solving.

With the nine elements of the School Development Program in place, no teacher has to face difficult problems alone. Teachers begin to share effective practices, contribute to the solution of problems, explore opportunities throughout the school and share a sense of pride with each good outcome. Mental health professionals on the Student and Staff Support Team assist with child development and classroom management. With this approach to running the school, disparate elements become more collaborative and effective in operation—curriculum, instruction, assessment, parent and community relations, and use of technology. All of the components of the school process join together in a coherent fashion, working under a positive climate on behalf of children.


There are now over 650 SDP schools in districts across the country. The emphasis on a positive school climate and stakeholder collaboration is supported academically by an aligned curriculum that links classroom activities across subject matter, grade level, and student testing goals.

The Comer process has been put into use and has been effective in both urban and suburban area schools, and in schools serving diverse ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic communities. Research has shown that students who attended SDP schools have significantly higher scores on self-concept, social competence, resilience, attendance, and

academic achievement. Case studies show families becoming active partners with school staff, and teachers expressing positive perceptions of their students and collaborating more with each other following SDP implementation.

  • In Guilford County, North Carolina, the superintendent has used the SDP to help integrate smaller school districts into one large county system. In the four years since the merger, elementary and middle school students have improved steadily in the core subjects of reading, writing and math. In 1996, Guilford County students scored two points above the nation, five points above the state, and seven points above the average for Southern states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • In New York School District 13, there have been significant increases in overall math and writing scores. By 1996, 86 percent of fifth graders in the district tested above the State Proficiency Level in writing and 86 percent of 3rd and 6th graders tested above the State Proficiency Level in math. At one Comer school in particular, PS#3, 97 percent of the students scored at or above the minimum competency level.
  • In the New Haven, Connecticut, where there is a renewal of the SDP implementation, between 1995 and 1996 the percentage of fourth graders scoring at or above the state goal in reading increased by 7 percent and the percentage of fourth graders above the state goal in math increased by 4 percent. For eighth graders the increase was 13 percent in reading and 7 percent in math.

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