August 6, 2007

Expanding the Violence-Free Zone

Posted in School safety in other places, Student safety, Student violence, Success stories at 3:45 pm by madisonparent

The Violence-Free Zone initiative places young people from the community into schools as youth advisers. These advisers form relationships within the school and nearby community, and they work to identify students labeled as the most disruptive. They may help a kid find a safe place to go after school or better living arrangements for families. At South Division High School, they have even helped families with tax forms.

In the hallways, advisers defuse arguments before they boil over, and they confront unruly students with a stern message: Violent behavior is not acceptable. But along with that message, healthy alternatives are offered.

 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Making Connections,” August 5, 2007.

The Milwaukee Public School system is expanding its “Violence-Free Zone” school safety program this coming school year. The program, developed by the national Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, places mentors from the community inside schools to build relationships with students and to counsel against and defuse student violence. (The CNE site includes some data on on the program’s success.) The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this year on the program’s success at Milwaukee’s South Division High School, and applauds the expansion of the program.


June 9, 2007

School safety: Milwaukee

Posted in School policy, School safety in other places, Statistics and reporting, Student safety, Student violence at 7:47 am by madisonparent

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 13, 2007

Sunshine Week – our right to know

Posted in School safety in other places, Statistics and reporting at 7:38 am by madisonparent

This week is national “Sunshine Week” (Sunshine Week web site; Sunshine Week blog), promoting open government and the public’s right to know. For last year’s Sunshine Week, the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle conducted a freedom of information audit to obtain copies of its school district’s reports of violent and disruptive incidents in school buildings. Even though this is a report that each school was required to prepare and file under New York state’s Safe Schools against Violence in Education (SAVE) law, many of the schools were less than cooperative in complying with open records requests for copies of the reports. The newspaper used the incident reports to publish a comprehensive report on safety in its district’s schools.

March 6, 2007

School disciplinary system audit

Posted in Discipline code, School policy, School safety in other places, Statistics and reporting at 7:51 am by madisonparent

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:

  1. [S]tandards and expectations regarding acceptable and unacceptable codes of conduct [are] clearly articulated and communicated […]
  2. [I]nvestigations into […] and reviews of allegations of misconduct [are] conducted in an unbiased, thorough, timely and professional manner […]
  3. [T]he penalties and consequences for disciplinary infractions [are] unambiguous, appropriate and rational to the particular situation […]
  4. [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 […]
  5. [T]he personnel responsible for […] enforcing the disciplinary system [are] appropriately trained, skilled, and committed to ensuring full compliance with disciplinary policies and procedures […]
  6. [There is] consistency in the enforcement of disciplinary policies and procedures and the imposition of penalties […]
  7. [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 […]
  8. [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?

March 5, 2007

Student violence, teacher victims

Posted in School safety in other places, Student violence at 7:42 am by madisonparent

In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County schools, incidents of students attacking teachers have increased even while school population has decreased. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (“Students’ Assaults on Teachers Hit High in 2006,” March 5, 2007; via, reports:

Juvenile probation records show the number of teachers assaulted by students in Allegheny County schools is steadily rising. [….]

Many assaults don’t even get reported because teachers refuse to press charges. [….]

Nancy Addy, a drama teacher at Langley High School, said she and her colleagues have seen a growing number of youngsters who lack civility and seem to be more rude and abusive than ever. [….]

School principals sometimes discourage teachers from filing charges or downplay confrontations with teachers and students so their schools won’t be seen as unsafe, said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, a staff representative with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. [….]

Part of the problem with trying to punish some youthful offenders is they view probation and jail time as a status symbol. [….]

[Probation office Jason Newhouse:] “…kids tend to show me more respect because I can send them back to court. Teachers can’t sanction them like I can. Kids take advantage of that and it makes things more difficult for teachers.”

The article also reports that the teachers’ union has reached agreement with the school district for the creation of a new alternative school for persistently disruptive students.

February 28, 2007

Personal connection vs. personal responsibility

Posted in School policy, School safety in other places, Student violence at 7:48 am by madisonparent

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.

February 27, 2007

School safety – whose priority?

Posted in School safety in other places, Student safety, Student violence at 2:35 pm by madisonparent

…we cannot seriously address student achievement until we address school culture. The frequent assaults, and the even more frequent incidents of low-level aggression and incivility – threats, belligerence, verbal harassment – wear teachers down and disrupt student focus. Incivility is the backdrop against which all teachers teach, new or experienced, weak or strong, in “good” schools, or in “bad.”

from Teacher Voices, via School Information System. Sadly, it appears that school safety can fall off the list of priorities of educational administrators even when school safety planning is mandated by state law (see previous post).

February 20, 2007

School safety plans?

Posted in School policy, School safety in other places, Student safety at 9:13 am by madisonparent

The state of New York’s “Safe Schools against Violence in Education” (“SAVE”) law requires each of its school districts to develop and implement a district-wide safety plan, and each individual school to have a building-level emergency response plan. District-wide and school-wide school safety teams that include school and district personnel, board of education members, and members of teacher, student and parent organizations, are charged with developing the plans and reviewing and updating them annually. (School-wide school safety teams also include members of law enforcement and community groups.) There’s a mandatory period of public comment before safety plans are adopted, and community and parent involvement is encouraged. The “ProjectSAVE Guidance Document for School Safety Plans” provides a detailed framework of best practices and processes for school safety planning, which could serve as a valuable resource for any school district in any state.

New York State’s ProjectSAVE has been in effect since 2000, but here in Wisconsin, it seems that we’re far from the leading edge. School safety plans got a mention in Governor Doyle’s campaign blog a few months ago (“Everyone must make an effort to dust off and review school safety plans that may not have been practiced or updated since they were developed after the 1999 Columbine shooting, Doyle said.”), but searches on the web sites for the state Department of Public Instruction and the Madison Metropolitan School District don’t give the impression that we’ve approached school safety planning either with rigor or broad-based involvement. What do the school safety plans for our district and our children’s schools look like today?

February 13, 2007

Students against bullying

Posted in Bullying, School safety in other places, Student safety, Student violence at 9:24 am by madisonparent

Principals say they can’t help students who are victims of bullying if the victims won’t finger their bullies. Students say they won’t finger their bullies when they expect to be met with an ineffective response by school authorities, followed by retaliation by the bully. Is there a “third way”?

Anti-bullying efforts may be more likely to succeed when student bystanders stand up to the bully and support the victim, as University of South Australia researchers Ken Rigby and Bruce Johnson describe in their article “Playground Heroes” in Greater Good Magazine (via Joanne Jacobs):

Why have anti-bullying programs met with so little success? We suggest two important reasons[:]


The first is that educators have concentrated on encouraging teachers and counselors to watch what is happening and take strong disciplinary action when bullying has occurred. Unfortunately, school authorities are commonly unaware of what is going on.


The second reason why anti-bullying programs often fail is because they are not effectively supported by children. One of the startling facts to emerge from the research into children’s behavior in recent years has been the almost ubiquitous presence of other children when bullying takes place in schools.


Once we recognize that the most effective influence on children’s bystander behavior is what they think their friends expect of them (not what their teacher or parents think), we can begin to devise ways in which positive peer influence can make itself felt.

Locally, students at Cherokee Middle School appeared before the School Board’s Community Partnerships Committee last night to describe the public service skits they have filmed, working with the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, to educate their fellow middle schoolers on bullying and ways they can stop being passive bystanders and turn into active allies of bullied victims.

In Connecticut high schools, the “Names” anti-bullying program has been in place for over a decade under the guidance of the Connecticut Office of the Anti-Defamation League, as recently described in this recent article from the New York Times (registration required/short-term link). The program includes efforts to encourage bystanders to become allies.

In Arizona, the Arizona Bullying Prevention Partnership has launched a statewide initiative to implement Olweus bullying prevention training in elementary, middle and junior high schools.

What can we parents do?

There’s a vast array of ideas and resources available online, including:

But the first step is to stop being mere bystanders ourselves.

February 12, 2007

Gannett’s news site on school safety

Posted in School safety in other places, Student safety, Student violence at 9:38 am by madisonparent

Gannett News Service has developed the news site “Safe at School? A National Forum for Ideas and Discussion” to focus on its reporting on school safety issues (including the recent feature from its partner USA Today on the inconsistent standards for identifying “persistently dangerous” schools under No Child Left Behind). The site’s “community conversation” section includes forums where readers can post their experiences with and suggested solutions to address school violence, which are well worth reading.

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