Thursday, February 4, 2010

District 150 taking a serious look at school security

Hidden in a story about renovations to Peoria High School is a very important tidbit about school security at the newly consolidated school. The pjstar reports that both district and school officials from Peoria High and Woodruff have met with officials from the Peoria police and fire departments, District 150 security and the park district. They also have met with a nationally known expert in school security, Michael Dorn, collaborating on what's in place and what is needed.

Their recommendations include a new glass wall inside the front entrance, requiring all visitors to go through the office to enter the building; more than 20 new security cameras; additional lighting; and re-examining how students enter and exit the building. The plans show costs at an estimated $825,000 in security and technology upgrades.

District 150 targeted by State for school reform

Turning around schools is difficult and highly controversial. Going into broken schools and creating a new culture is a quagmire. There will be colleagues who will fight for the status quo and figuring out who is really on your team won't be easy. If children in Peoria are to have any hope of a decent future, there is no denying that our schools must be turned around. IF Dr. Lathan comes to District 150, her past experience should serve our schools well, IF we should be so fortunate as to actually be a part of this initiative to improve low performing schools.

Illinois partners with Mass Insight and five other states in public-private initiative to improve lowest-performing schools

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced February 2, 2010, it will participate in a three-year, $75-million public-private partnership with five other states to develop long-term reform strategies for their lowest-performing schools. Illinois was selected to join the initiative, along with Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York by Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, a Boston-based non-profit education organization focused on closing achievement gaps.

"We’re excited to work with these states and Mass Insight to identify and implement new strategies to turn around struggling schools," said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. "This initiative, funded by an unprecedented amount of federal dollars and private donations, calls for dramatic broad-scale interventions."

The Partnership Zone Initiative will be funded by a variety of private and public sources, including increased federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Additional money for these six states could also be awarded through the federal Race to the Top competitive grant program.

The states will initially establish Partnership Zones in a limited amount of districts with clusters of low-performing schools that will serve to demonstrate the success of a more strategic approach to turnaround. Each cluster of schools will be teamed with a lead partner, an organization that directly supports principals in turning around schools. Lead partners are experienced turnaround leaders selected by districts that have been pre-qualified by the State Board of Education. The Illinois Partnership Zone will also include assistance from "Supporting Partners" who will help the district and lead partners improve the effectiveness of teachers and principals in Partnership Zone schools.

Illinois will likely select the initial Partnership Zone participants from the 12 districts or Local Education Authorities (LEAs) that have signed on to accelerate improvement efforts as "Super LEAs" in the state’s Race to the Top Application. Schools chosen for the Partnership Zone will be given a higher degree of priority to receive funding through Illinois' share of federal school improvement grants, and may receive as much as $750,000 per school year for three years.

Much of the additional funding will go toward increased teacher compensation to support extended learning time, intensive professional development and incentive pay in Partnership Zone schools.

Illinois’ Super LEAs, as identified in the state’s Race to the Top Application, are:
■Community Unit School District 300
■De Pue Unit School District 103
■Decatur School District 61
■Kankakee School District 111
■Meridian Community Unit School District 101
Peoria School District 150
■Plano Community Unit School District 88
■Rich Township High School District 227
■Rockford Public Schools District 205
■Elgin Unit School District 46
■Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215
■Zion-Benton Township High School District 126

The Partnership Zone is a hybrid model that combines the benefits of a district with the operating flexibilities most frequently associated with charter schools. Zone schools remain inside the district and may continue to tap into the efficiencies of many district wide services. However, Zone schools also give school level leaders the freedom to make staffing, scheduling, curriculum and salary decisions, in return for being held accountable for dramatic student achievement gains within two years. (this is the part the teacher's union will hate)

The six states were selected for this group based on:

■A commitment to the Partnership Zone framework set forth in Mass Insight’s 2007 report, The Turnaround Challenge;
■A commitment to investing the resources necessary for successful turnaround; and,
■Alignment and support of state leadership.

States plan to launch Partnership Zones on a flexible but aggressive timeline; with some states, including Illinois, implementing zones as early as the 2010-11 school year.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ending the schoolhouse to jailhouse track

Thankfully for children and parents in Peoria’s inner city, charter schools won out over boot camp alternative schools in last night’s election.

Discipline Gets the Boot
While zero-tolerance policies come into question, urban districts are trying alternatives—and seeing considerable success. For the past 15 years, zero-tolerance policies for violence in schools have been the driving force behind many—80 to 95 percent by some estimates—of school discipline policies around the country.

Starting in 1994 with the requirements of the federal Gun-Free Schools Act and propelled by the shootings at Columbine High School five years later, districts began implementing zero-tolerance policies not just on possessing weapons but on a variety of student behaviors—from bringing in drugs and alcohol to cursing, disrupting class or even violating the dress code. Along the way, student suspensions and expulsions multiplied, not to mention the number of referrals to principals’ offices across the nation.

But the disciplinary landscape is starting to change in a growing number of schools, especially those in urban districts, where administrators have taken their cues from high-profile reports questioning the effectiveness and fairness of zero-tolerance practices. “Up until three years ago, the trend in most large urban districts was going in a more punitive direction,” says Jim Freeman, the project director of the Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Project in Washington, D.C.

Freeman, who has worked with districts in Denver, Chicago, Baltimore County and Florida to change discipline codes, points to a landmark study in 2006 by the American Psychological Association that helped turn the tide. “While the standard claim was that zero-tolerance policies would improve school safety, the schools were no safer than before zero tolerance,” he explains. “What the report showed was that zero-tolerance policies turned schools into inhospitable environments that didn’t promote school safety. Now the movement towards alternatives is really picking up in a significant way. There are more bills being introduced and passed, and more districts are rewriting their policies.”

Nationwide, more parents and elected officials want schools to revisit policies, in part due to a recent high-profile case involving a 6-year-old Delaware boy who was suspended after he brought to school a camping tool that included a knife.

In large cities such as Denver, Los Angeles and New York, meanwhile, school districts have been replacing those policies with the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) program, an approach to student behavior that emerged in the 1980s and pays careful attention to the social and emotional circumstances that can lead to bad student behavior, as well as interventions to prevent it, and with Restorative Justice (RJ), a more recent approach to discipline that offers a more flexible and creative way of dealing with behavioral incidents. Both methods emphasize that the offenders understand the impact of their actions and make appropriate amends.

Author and educator Ross Greene, who believes zero-tolerance policies are ineffective, also created the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach, which has helped schools to respond to behaviorally challenging students more effectively, and which has dramatically reduced rates of detention, suspension and expulsion. In his guidelines Bill of Rights for Kids with Social, Emotional and Behavioral Challenges, Greene, an associate clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, strives to ensure students with challenges are understood and treated compassionately.

North Lawndale Prep's Commitment to Peace

Every school day, 430 high school students travel from all over Chicago to the city's rough West Side and to North Lawndale College Prep charter high school, where they enter without passing through metal detectors.

"That's something that the founders were adamant about," says Nicole Howard, the principal of this 12-year-old charter school, which requires student uniforms. "They thought it was the wrong way to start the school day, with adults going through students' pockets and backpacks."

The new discipline policy embraced PBS and RJ practices, which had already been used for several years at seven pilot schools. Each school has its own RJ coordinator, who mediates conflicts between students or between a student and teacher; works with students, parents, teachers and administrators to devise alternative punishments to suspension; and monitors the aftermath of behavioral incidents.

“Restorative Justice creates an environment in which students take more responsibility,” observes Nicole VeltzĂ©, principal of Skinner Middle School, one of seven with an RJ coordinator. “Today when I reinstated one student, I said, ‘Did you think when you cussed out your teacher the effect it would have on the teacher?’ We walk them through

The teacher met with the student and the RJ coordinator to mediate how to restore the classroom environment, and the student wrote a speech to the class about how his poor choice affected that environment, she says.

Personnel from 70 other schools around Denver have since received PBS and RJ training. “The policy really emphasizes trying to prevent certain behaviors before they occur, analyzing behavior antecedents and focusing on age-appropriate discipline techniques to keep students in school,” says Karstaedt. The number of out-of-school suspensions, which spiked in 2002-2003 at 14,000, decreased to about 8,000 last year.

Alternatives to Suspension
The Los Angeles Unified School District—staggering under almost 84,000 days of student suspensions in 2006- 2007—had already begun serious work almost three years earlier on revising the student discipline policy, which officially changed at the end of 2007. “We have kids who have lost weeks of instructional time because of suspensions. We really want them to be in school and learning,” says Nancy Franklin, LAUSD’s director of professional development.

Thanks to a three-year, annual $1 million budget, Franklin and her staff adopted the PBS system three years ago and implemented CHAMPS, a classroom management program for teachers that gets them to change their teaching approach by stressing—according to the letters in the acronym—community, help, activity, material and participation.

Teachers tackled the CHAMPS curriculum over a year of professional development workshops. “They already had the skill set,” Franklin points out. “So we got them to ask, ‘What’s my piece? What’s my responsibility?’ And they realized, ‘I really can change everything in the classroom by changing the structure.’”

As part of that change, Franklin explains, teachers learned to collect data on the level of student engagement for certain teaching approaches, even soliciting student feedback, and then adjusted their teaching styles and classroom activities to reflect what they had discovered.

“The new discipline policy has really added years to my life,” proclaims Kandice McLurkin, principal of Cienega Elementary School in central L.A. Under that policy, which also includes RJ and a published list of 10 alternatives to suspension (see sidebar), McLurkin has seen office referrals in the 800-student school drop from 335 to 271 in the last two years. “We were the hub for three different youth gangs, but when we put in the Positive Behavior Support plan, we grew an average of 55 points on the California Standardized Test that first year,” McLurkin says. While gangs still exist in the surrounding neighborhood, their influence within school walls has diminished.

“I’ve seen kids making better academic progress because they have better in-seat behavior,” Franklin adds.

McLurkin also points to the district’s 10 alternatives to suspension, which range from restitution and community service to behavior monitoring and mini-courses such as ballroom dancing. Cienega has made extensive use of the mini-course options, which are taught after school by volunteers. One example is a seminar staffed by the Los Angeles Police Department and aimed at helping students develop respect for authority.

McLurkin recalls one girl two years ago who had been involved with gangs, been in trouble at school, and ended up in the police mini-course. “On Back to School Night last year, she saluted a police captain,” McLurkin notes, adding that the student now says the Pledge of Allegiance to open school assemblies and works in the school library during free periods.

Despite the positive outcomes of eliminating zero-tolerance policies in favor of restorative justice, some school security experts favor separating out repeat offenders permanently. Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif., endorses the growing number of alternative schools set up specifically for students with recurrent disciplinary problems, even at the elementary level.

Stephens also questions if such behaviors should be the teachers’ job. “Teachers trying to increase the educational achievement of their students can’t do it effectively if they’re spending 25 to 30 percent of their time on discipline,” he says. “It goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy: Until you get safety, you can’t move on to higher goals.”

Read the entire article here.