Stopping the School-to-Prison Pipeline with Reclaiming Futures

Reclaiming Futures Logo with La Jolla Tag

Based at Portland State University, Reclaiming Futures is a national organization whose work focuses on improving juvenile justice through research-based interventions. As they broaden their impact to include working directly within K-12 school systems, they are partnering with Schoolzilla to develop a suite of research-based, interactive dashboards designed to support the needs of students who are at risk for becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Each dashboard is designed for a particular stakeholder in students’ school lives, including teachers, counselors, principals, and other support staff.

Below is a conversation that Schoolzilla Senior Impact Manager Adam Rosenzweig had with Reclaiming Future’s Executive Director, Evan Elkin.

AR: What’s the goal of Reclaiming Futures?

EE: Reclaiming Futures operates at the intersection of public health and social justice. Our overarching goal is to help youth-serving systems, like the juvenile justice, education, and child welfare systems, improve behavioral health outcomes and achieve greater equity for youth. 

AR: Say more about equity.

EE: When we say equity, we mean fair and equal treatment in the system and also equal access to health and well-being. We work within systems where the playing field is not level for youth of color and where there are significant negative collateral consequences associated with structural racism, and we’ve recently sharpened our focus on strategies to address these racial and ethnic disparities in the systems where we work.

AR: What is Reclaiming Futures really good at?

EE: Our strategy – and, I think, our greatest impact in the jurisdictions where we work – is to bring about cross-system and cross-silo collaboration. In the places we work, we ask our sites to form leadership teams comprised of key decision makers from across a range of professional disciplines, representing key agencies and systems (like judges, probation chiefs, treatment clinic directors, etc.), and then we coach, support, educate, inspire, and otherwise cajole them into reaching consensus on a set of tangible and achievable reform goals.

Those site-based interdisciplinary groups are then invited to interact with the individuals and groups from other sites across the country in what we call our “learning collaborative.”  What has emerged from this strategy is a peer community, which we have intentionally constructed to disseminate and support the work – the mission and also the practical hands-on aspects of the work. It’s quite effective as a catalyst.

AR: Why were you interested in pursuing this partnership with Schoolzilla?

EE: Recently, we started working to adapt our approach for a school setting, and we’ve created a comprehensive school reform framework that addresses school discipline, school climate, and behavioral health.

These are complex and interrelated domains that require schools to take a critical lens to their work in order to achieve and sustain tangible outcomes. The data we invite schools to look at will be quite challenging. To support this work, our sites will need a continuous data-driven feedback loop.

We chose Schoolzilla because of how in touch they are with the school experience on the ground and, honestly, because of the elegance and power of the dashboards. We knew we needed user-friendly, intuitive, and smart dashboards to achieve success with this project.

AR: What would you like educators to know about student discipline as they begin the new school year?

EE: I think the tricky thing about school discipline is appreciating the complexity of thechallenge schools face in re-engineering their approach – particularly in schools with significant behavioral challenges where, most days, teachers may be just trying to keep the peace long enough to get some teaching done.

We know there is no quick fix, but we believe that attention to the root causes of misbehavior, greater mindfulness about the impact of the discipline decisions we make on the most vulnerable students, and a culture shift toward a more tolerant and inclusive approach will pay huge dividends for our schools.

AR: To help our community better understand your work, would you describe one of Reclaiming Futures’ other recent partnerships or projects?

EE: We’ve recently entered into a partnership with the W. Haywood Burns Institute and another national group based in Oakland called Impact Justice to develop a new framework and a data-centered strategy for behavioral health practitioners and their justice system partners to examine the key decision points around substance use and mental health treatment where racial bias can be introduced. We’re really excited about this project because it’s another opportunity to do work that is data driven and also critically important to the well-being of vulnerable youth.


We’re excited about this partnership because of its potential to advance the use of data to improve outcomes for some of the most vulnerable students in our schools. If you would like to learn more about this work, or if you have suggestions for partnerships that Schoolzilla should pursue, please contact us at To explore some of Schoolzilla’s current behavior dashboards, click here.

3 Ways To More User-Friendly Data

We recently sat down with designer Mayra Vega to her get advice on creating data dashboards that people will actually use.

She told us that getting people to use the reports you create starts with reorienting your concept of user needs from nouns to verbs.

Thinking of a need as a noun fast-tracks your thinking straight to what you will build for your user, often skipping over crucial considerations about what you are trying to help the user do in the first place.

In conceptualizing needs as verbs, you will consider how a user’s needs will be met by taking user experience into consideration. This approach will also surface deeper insights into what your user is trying to accomplish with your report.

Use the Needs Madlib below as a guide for thinking of needs as verbs.


Dig deeper into user needs with one of the three user research approaches below.

  1. Watch
    Observing your users as they navigate a report gives you a lens into where the obstacles they face exist and how your report can best fit their mental model or existing process. It may seem simpler to just ask users where they are having trouble, but Mayra says that there is more to gain from asking users to show as well as tell.“Oftentimes what they say is not exactly what they’re doing, and when you’re watching what they’re doing, you’re learning a lot about the places where they get tripped up.”

    Key questions to keep in mind: What is the user doing? How is that helpful for the user? Why?

    Below is a picture of a parent-teacher conference that we took from one of our observations when we wanted to create a report for parent-teacher conferences. We learned from this observation that teachers prefer to print out paper copies of the report for parents to look at during the meeting. Since most teachers print their materials in black and white, not color, we decided to grayscale this report to make it printer friendly.

  2. Ask
    Merely watching your users in action is not enough. Asking “why” during your observation and interviewing them about their process afterward are integral steps for understanding their experience.
    A few things to keep in mind when interviewing…

    • Don’t ask them to solve the problem.
    • Practice lots of listening. The best interviewers listen more than they speak.
    • Don’t ask binary questions. Instead say, “Tell me about a time when…”
    • Keep digging deeper by asking why.
    • Don’t ask only “yes” or “no” questions. Open-ended questions will yield more useful insights.
    • Keep questions short and simple: only ten words to a question and one question at a time.
    • Interviewing in pairs will enable you to make sure you capture the most insights. Have someone take notes while you pose questions.
  3. Do
    Try using the report that you have created as your intended users would, with their needs in mind”“You really want to put yourself in your users’ shoes and understand and gain empathy for the things that they do,” Mayra says, adding, “When you gain that empathy, you start noticing areas that you can help them with.”

    If you were going to create a report for a board of directors, for example, you could read the board packet to get an idea of how much information they have to read through before going to a board meeting. This approach will give you an insight into the nature of the information board members are looking at, the difficulties they face in processing it, and how you can improve that experience with your report.

Mayra gave a presentation on this topic at our last Schoolzilla User Summit. Check out Mayra’s full presentation, where she goes into more depth and discusses the prototype and usability testing processes for making user-centered reports HERE.

More resources for making user-centered reports: