September 9, 2008
The Wisconsin State Legislative Council’s Special Committee on School Safety meets today. The committee’s charge is described as follows:
The Special Committee is directed to review means by which school safety can be improved by examining the relationship between maintaining a safe and secure physical environment and fostering a safe and secure learning environment. The committee is directed to focus on best practices relating to school discipline, including suspension and expulsion, programs for disciplined students, creation and implementation of bullying prevention and other school conduct enforcement measures, and interagency coordination with mental health, law enforcement, and other relevant agencies. The committee may also review means by which information can be disseminated and assistance can be provided.
The agenda for today’s meeting is focused on school safety plans, including a presentation by state Attorney General J. B. van Hollen.
The members of the committee include Luis Yudice, the MMSD‘s Coordinator of Safety and Security.
August 14, 2007
I’ve seen drug deals on the bike path, my street outside the library, heard of prostitution, I’ve been followed home in the middle of the day by a 13-year-old armed rapist, and now I’m the one living behind bars in my home—I have bars on my back doors and windows. I was wondering if it would be possible to have police foot patrol or on horseback—or whatever—on the bike paths as a possible solution. The first thing I’ve noticed in the past when I’m walking to work or to the library or in the neighborhood are people loitering before I see drug activity or when I noticed the young—the 13-year-old boy, and I do think that that is definitely a precedent that comes before crimes. It’s very unnerving to be alone in a parking lot and to see a young—a large young man kind of loitering along and then he looks around to see if there’s anybody else around, you know and you know what might come next is a possible crime. It seems like children are the ones terrorizing the neighborhoods—often the ones committing the robberies and the burglaries and the mayhem are young teenage boys. All I really wanted to do when I bought my house three years ago was to be able to walk to work—it’s only half a mile—every day, and I still do that during daylight hours. I would also like a way to be warned if the police were to notice violent gang initiations on an increase in Madison. I think it would be helpful for the public to be notified if something like that does start to occur. I do appreciate the police staff.
On Cimarron Trail this summer there have been two major fights in my own back yard in which police had to spend several hours breaking them up. The last fight, my neighbor and I were threatened to be sued because we told people to quit trespassing due to their involvement in the fight. The next day there was gang graffiti on my sidewalk. I’m a teacher at Memorial High School, and so my request to Mayor Cieslewicz is please increase the police patrols on the West side. It not only affects the neighborhood, it affects every teacher’s job in Madison, because the issues going on in the neighborhood spill over into the schools, and they’re a big cause of what’s going on at the schools and especially Memorial High School. [emphasis added.] I also want to thank all the police officers I’ve met and especially Officer Shannon Blackmore, who’s not here but who has been a wonderful resource to Memorial High School staff.
Please listen to us. Please believe us.
These are excerpts from comments of speakers at last week’s “neighborhood listening session” on crime in the west side’s District 20 (video of the meeting is now available on Madison City Channel 12’s web site). Several hundred people attended the meeting (estimates of attendance by the media range from 600 to 750), and only a fraction of those who wanted to speak could be accommodated within the meeting’s 90-minute time limit. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, and Alders Thuy Pham-Remmele (who organized the meeting), Jed Sanborn and Zach Brandon were there to listen.
At the meeting, Chief Wray noted that he appreciated the neighborhood feedback, and stated: “We’re going to have to develop a short- and a long-term plan. A number of you mentioned the need—and I would totally agree with you—the need for additional police resources. [Crowd applause.] But even if the mayor and the council approved tomorrow additional police resources, we would not see those police officers on the street until 2009.” Chief Wray will be announcing the police department’s plans for addressing crime in these neighborhoods at a future meeting (now scheduled for September 5*).
We all should be grateful to the people of District 20 and their alder for coming together and shining a light on crime in the neighborhoods. It was clear from the speakers’ remarks that these problems aren’t new. These problems have been compounded by being disregarded and downplayed as “anecdotal” or “isolated” incidents (although we now have an acknowledgment that the police department has been, in its own words, “behind the curve” in making information on crime available to the public). It’s good news that the city has started working on a plan for tackling crime on the West side. It’s not so good news that the city didn’t start working on this problem until the neighborhoods were in a uproar. The ship’s captain shouldn’t wait for the passengers to sound the alarm before navigating away from the iceberg.
Chief Wray has recently acknowledged publicly that there is a gang problem in Madison schools, and that it is growing. But crime-related issues are hardly front and center in the priorities of our school board for the upcoming school year; the school board does not have a dedicated safety committee; the Board of Education-Common Council liaison committee (which meets on an “as needed” basis) hasn’t met since March (no minutes for that meeting have been posted yet; the latest committee minutes available are those for the meeting held in February); and data on school-based crime continues to be incomplete and virtually inaccessible. We’ve lost essential lead time due to the delay in acknowledging the crime problem in our neighborhoods, which now limits the city’s options for taking action to address the problem. I hope that we are not heading toward the same mistake with our schools.
*Updated (9/5/07): The followup meeting has now been rescheduled for Thursday, September 13, 2007, at 6:30 pm at St. Maria Goretti school.
June 24, 2007
Details of the data behind the “School assaults, by the numbers” item (thank you, Bill Lueders) in this week’s Isthmus are posted here (sorted by school name), and here (subtotals of incidents by school type). The reports included incidents through June 4, 2007, so any incidents that occurred during the final fortnight of the school year aren’t included. There are a couple of entries whose dates predate the school year and may be typos, but they are replicated as is.
Student-on-student assault/injury information is not included in these reports, nor do these reports include incidents of verbal threats of violence against staff (even those serious enough to result in the issuance of a restraining order). Police were called in only 13 of the 224 incidents. We don’t know whether there is a district-wide policy that requires that all such incidents be reported, and, if there is, whether the policy is followed consistently from school to school. I concur with the commenters at School Information System that this is only a part of the picture, that we need to know more, and that we need to do more.
June 14, 2007
Please read this if you’re a parent who’s concerned about safety in Madison schools, and who wants to do something about it.
This WSJ article could not have been more timely. We had a meeting with some staff and parents at our school, Orchard Ridge Elementary, that same evening. Both before and after, I’ve talked with parents at other schools who all agree that the article was horribly misleading – that discipline continues to be an enormous problem and is getting worse. And that this discretionary, overly soft, coddle-the-perpetrator “Above the Line” program is completely ineffective.
The overall tenor of our meeting at ORE last night was rather disappointing. We only invited a small handful of parents and staff to try to keep the discussion positive and manageable. But the bottom line was typical: Many parents left feeling like the staff (principal, school social worker, school psych and two teachers) listened but did not even begin to hear. They nod politely but don’t offer feedback. They stay mum when we bring up an idea that they have no intention of initiating but don’t offer any alternatives of their own.
When we asked for specific numbers of incidents this year compared to previous years at our school and across other elementary schools, we weren’t given any. We were just told the percentages from 2005 and 2006 of suspensions and that we were in line with those numbers this year. When we asked about non-suspension figures (data on anything that is not “above the line” behavior, the staff mumbled and distracted or stayed silent. There were comments that the ‘referral’ form (incident record) filled out for such things aren’t computerized yet so it’s all in transition, and we were told not all teachers fill out the forms all the time, etc. (A teacher today told me she didn’t even know they were SUPPOSED to fill out the forms this year; she thought they’d stopped doing that at our school.)
We were given the district mantra on the Above the Line concept – with a huge emphasis on how, with the incredible mobility the schools see (kids moving from one to another throughout the year, etc.), it’s important to have a program like this that offers them the consistency from school to school. But many of us parents pointed out that there’s no consistency from classroom to classroom or incident to incident, much less school to school. One teacher may be more sympathetic than another, or one may have a higher tolerance level than another. So what would pass for back-talk and a consequence with one teacher may not yield any reaction from another, because the teachers are given discretion. And when the principal says that teachers don’t fill out the referral forms all the time, it’s clear that there’s no consistency.
Parents brought to the table concerns with consistency (and how seriously the staff takes discipline) with several incidents, for example: One kid chokes another on the playground and doesn’t have to apologize, nor is he suspended. Ditto with a kid who apparently kicked a teacher in the chest. But we’re not told WHY these kids were not reprimanded, only that things happen behind the scenes that we don’t see. One kid shoves another kid, and the parents are called and told staff will sit down with the two kids and talk to them together, but it never happens. The situation – from victim’s perspective – is just ignored.
When we explained to the staff that – especially when it comes to kids – perception IS reality, and the kids do not perceive that typical bad stuff yields consequences, then we’re just told that we should tell the kids there ARE consequences. But our kids tell us that there aren’t, and they report fewer and fewer problems because “nothing’s going to happen anyway,” and because they’re concerned with retribution from the kid in question.
June 12, 2007
This morning’s Wisconsin State Journal (“A New Approach to School Discipline,” June 12, 2007) covers the MMSD’s adoption of the “positive behavior support” principles developed by Corwin Kronenberg. This post on School Information System examined the launch of the Kronenberg system in the MMSD over a year ago. The launch had been preceded by presentations by MMSD administration to the school board in the fall of 2005 (the excerpt below, with emphasis added, is taken from the minutes of the school board’s Performance and Achievement Committee meeting on November 7, 2005):
4. Behavior and Discipline Plan
(Packets included a memorandum relative to new plans for supporting positive student behavior (10/6/05) and a chart depicting the comprehensive system supporting positive student behaviors in elementary schools. Copies are attached to the original of these minutes.)
Mary Gulbrandsen, Chief of Staff; Karen Kepler, principal of Emerson Elementary School; and Ron Lott, Staff Improvement Planner for Elementary Schools; gave a Power Point presentation on the MMSD plan for supporting positive student behavior (a copy is attached to the original of these minutes). Mr. Lott described how he guides a school through this process. Guiding principles are talked through at the beginning. The goal is to come to consensus about what everyone will do in response to behaviors in order to bring about consistency and lead to an agreed-to, finalized plan. Ms. Kepler described what they have done at Emerson to reduce suspensions and the impact of mobility. She detailed the “above-the-line,” “below-the-line,” and “bottom-line” behaviors that simplify the rules of the school as opposed to the regular student handbook. They are working on some trial curriculum to help determine when staff intervenes and when the administration intervenes. Features of the plan include the “Fix It” Plan (a copy is attached to the original of these minutes) that is completed by the child to help him/her process the behavior. The Fix It plan is given as an alternative to consequences and comes in pictorial and written versions. Mr. Lott noted that there are some children who are taking some time to change their behaviors but a number are having one experience with a Fix It plan and are not having another incidence. The data seems to bring on good conversation with the staff. Suspensions are down. Lunch clubs have been formed, there is now only one calming room that includes things the students can do to help them process, teachers are processing with these students while the principal covers the class, etc.
Discussion: How the decision is made about which schools receive this program. Plan for rolling out within two years. Using principal groups to eliminate those disciplinary plans at odds with this plan. Middle schools will be rolled out through the Middle Grades Design Team. Plan was well received by high schools. Agreement that suspensions do not change behavior; people are looking for something like this. Athletic code will also mirror this kind of restorative practice. Encouraging the involvement of Educational Resource Officers (EROs) only when necessary. Fall meeting revolved around teaching positive behaviors. Parent groups will be part of the entire process. Data is being tracked.
[emphasis above added]
School Improvement Plans in the school district for the 2006-2007 school year included implementation of Kronenberg (or apparently sometimes spelled “Kronenburg”) at Marquette, Lapham, Allis, Thoreau, Kennedy, Muir, Mendota, Midvale, Lake View, Elvehjem, Chavez, and Gompers elementary schools, and in Toki and Jefferson middle schools. The district has just announced that additional Kronenberg training for staff and parents will be funded for the 2007-2008 school year through a $2,500 Aristos Grant.
The MMSD has high expectations for Kronenberg (“As a result of this training student behavior will improve leading to greater success in school. Both student behavioral referrals to staff and suspensions will decrease.” [from the 07-08 Aristos Grant description]). The WSJ piece does its part to create the impression that those expectations are well on the way to being achieved. But, as the scientific adage goes, anecdotes do not equal data. Since we’re in the final few days of a school year in which at least a dozen of the district’s elementary schools and at least two of the middle schools have had a year of working and living with this system, data should be available at this point on the actual incidence of classroom disruption, threats and violence as experienced by students and teachers in schools that have implemented Kronenberg, in those that have not, how they compare to each other, and how they compare over time; and that data ought to be made available to the public.
June 9, 2007
The heading of this post from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “School Zone” blog reads “MPS data shows spike in violence-related suspensions; 45% of high school students suspended at least once this school year.” But there’s a buried (or at least competing) lede of good news here: first, that the Milwaukee Public Schools’ school board has a dedicated Safety Committee (MMSD does not); second, that the committee has made it a priority to compile, present to the board, and make available to the public current information on suspension statistics and trends; and third, that the district acknowledges publicly that it is “aware we need to do a better job summarizing district incidents and actions.”
In this regard, I hope that we can be more like Milwaukee.
March 6, 2007
The disciplinary system in Philadelphia schools is not as effective as it should be and is in need of further improvement (Philadelphia Inquirer, “Report: District Losing Control,” March 2, 2007), according to an independent audit performed by Ellen Green-Ceisler, a former Philadelphia police department auditor who was hired by Philadelphia school district chief executive Paul Vallas to evaluate the school district’s discipline system. The report (well worth reading in full in its own right) identifies the following qualities of an effective school disciplinary system:
- [S]tandards and expectations regarding acceptable and unacceptable codes of conduct [are] clearly articulated and communicated […]
- [I]nvestigations into […] and reviews of allegations of misconduct [are] conducted in an unbiased, thorough, timely and professional manner […]
- [T]he penalties and consequences for disciplinary infractions [are] unambiguous, appropriate and rational to the particular situation […]
- [T]he disciplinary process occur[s] in a timely manner[….] [U]nnecessary and unreasonable delays in responding to and resolving disciplinary matters [are] identified and appropriately addressed […]
- [T]he personnel responsible for […] enforcing the disciplinary system [are] appropriately trained, skilled, and committed to ensuring full compliance with disciplinary policies and procedures […]
- [There is] consistency in the enforcement of disciplinary policies and procedures and the imposition of penalties […]
- [T]he disciplinary system [is] transparent […] [A]dequate records and data [are] maintained that clearly identify the nature of the disciplinary occurrence and the District’s responses [….] [and which are] easily accessible […]
- [There is] accountability throughout the disciplinary system […] [S]pecifically, [there is] a system which effectively identifies and responds to situations where rules, policies and procedures are not followed or system breakdowns are occurring […]
If an independent audit of our schoool district’s disciplinary system were performed today, how would it measure up?
February 28, 2007
The school where I [now] work has a particularly humanistic philosophy. The teachers are asked to make a personal connection with each student. But at the same time, the school is suffering from massive absenteeism, lateness, extreme intellectual torpor in the classes. [….] For me, when I hear a student curse or speak aggressively or crudely, I can’t help but say something. My skin crawls. Apparently not everyone has this reaction. But when does the personal connection get taken advantage of? When does the humanistic approach become permissive to the point of abrogation of responsibility?
From I, Who Can’t, (warning: linked post contains profanity–not from the writer, but from the 9th grader quoted in the post), the blog of the Bronx high school teacher whose writing on school issues has also been featured in The New York Times and Slate magazine.