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Success Stories

How Stronger SEL Skills Led to 18% Higher GPAs at Meridian Public School District

Sam DeFlitch
Sam DeFlitch
How Stronger SEL Skills Led to 18% Higher GPAs at Meridian Public School District



Discover how Meridian Public School District links high social-emotional learning skills to a three-year average of 74% fewer behavior referrals, 20% less absenteeism, and 18% higher GPA.


  • Meridian Public School District wanted to establish an SEL program, but lacked a method for establishing a student baseline or measuring student progress.
  • The district faced a range of challenges, including high poverty, low academic performance, and lack of parental engagement.
  • District leaders needed software to gather student, staff, and family feedback, to track interventions, and to display actionable, comprehensive data.



  • Meridian has found a significant correlation between SEL skills and academic performance, behavior, and even attendance. 
  • Behavior and academic counselors can now quickly and easily access a full list of students who need support. 
  • School and district teams can access all student information in a single platform, streamlining conversations and decisions on student supports.



"I like data. I like measurable, actionable data," says Dr. James Murphy, District Behavior Specialist at Meridian Public School District.

It’s an outlook that informs Dr. Murphy’s approach to supporting Meridian’s students as they develop a range of key life skills, including social-emotional skills. The importance of actionable data ultimately led Dr. Murphy to Panorama, which provides the district with a view to comprehensive student performance at the click of a button.


When Dr. Murphy assumed the role of District Behavior Specialist in 2020, he began reimagining Meridian’s approach to social-emotional learning. The district—serving 4,930 students and 11 schools in Meridian, Mississippi—was committed to creating a program that provided holistic student support.

“We wanted to build the leading SEL program in Mississippi, and in the country,” Dr. Murphy says. “We have a rough district: high poverty, gangs, low academic performance, low parental engagement—it’s a lot to work through. So if an SEL program could work for us, if it could boost our district’s academic performance and decrease behavior referrals, then it could work for any district.”

Dr. Murphy realized that the district first needed to establish a baseline for students’ social-emotional skills, then have a way to measure improvement. The foundational component of Meridian's SEL program needed to include surveys, intervention tracking, and versatile check-in tools.



“We wanted the implementation of our SEL program to be thorough, pragmatic, logical, and measurable,” says Murphy. “And Panorama’s platform was the first piece of that.”

The district started using Panorama’s SEL Survey for students, but quickly branched out to Panorama’s Teacher and Staff Survey, Family-School Relationships Survey, and Student Success.

Murphy says that Student Success has greatly streamlined Meridian’s ability to collect and act on student data. With a few clicks, the platform displays comprehensive information on students trending up or down across attendance, academics, behavior, and SEL. Behavior and academic counselors can now quickly and easily access and disaggregate a full list of students who need support. 



“With Student Success, we have all the data on one screen,” says Murphy. “We can create reports to get meaningful data—and we don’t have to click through each individual student. Each school can create groups by SEL strengths and areas for support. What used to take a few months now takes a week.” 

Staff can now be preventative instead of reactive—and Murphy notes that intervention isn’t always negative. School staff and administrators can now see students who are doing better across academics, behavior, and attendance, and they can positively reinforce that progress. 

This software really does a great job of making the complicated simple,” says Murphy. “We now have the perfect setup to measure progress, hold us accountable, and help us get ahead of problems before they start.”



The district completed several initial rounds of SEL surveys—before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and then post-pandemic. At this point, Murphy wanted to dig deeper into the data. 

CASEL had made bold claims: the higher the SEL, the higher the GPAs and the less referrals. Panorama also had research that showed these correlations. So, as a scientist, I wanted to verify those claims.” 

So Murphy looked at the data on every student who responded to the SEL Survey, creating two groups: students who self-reported highly on six key social-emotional skills, and students who self-reported none of these six skills. He compared the GPA and the referrals of these two groups, and found a significant correlation between SEL skills and academic performance, behavior, and even attendance. 

The 2020-21 data showed that students with high SEL scores had 62% fewer behavior referrals and 27% higher GPAs than students with lower SEL scores. The 2021-22 data showed 93% fewer referrals and 12% higher GPAs, and the 22-23 data again showed strong correlation between social-emotional skills and holistic student success.

Meridian Impact of SEL (2)

Additionally, Murphy found schools that used the district’s SEL curriculum, Respectful Ways, more frequently showed higher social-emotional learning scores. And with Panorama’s platform, school academic counselors and behavior counselors can work collaboratively to deliver effective interventions and support holistic student success.

This commitment to whole-child success has been a highly collaborative effort at Meridian. Murphy credits his superintendent for her vision and commitment to innovation, and the district's principals for their commitment to ensuring that their schools all participated—because without them, there would be no data.

“I challenge any other school district to invest in Student Success and an SEL curriculum, then track student progress with Panorama. I guarantee that you will find that students with more developed social-emotional skills will have significantly higher GPAs, less behavior referrals, and even lower rates of absenteeism.”

“Social-emotional learning works. It is worth taking time to future out a program for your district that your people are willing to do and it will pay them back. SEL is not one more thing: it’s an investment in making your life easier,” says Murphy. “It is going to have the benefit of raising human beings who are good adults—and that’s what we want. Who cares about the Pythagorean Theorem if we don’t know how to talk to each other? That’s why SEL is the future.”


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