CategoryEducation Reforms

How to Rescue a School District on the Brink of Being Taken Over by State

pencils-447481_1280 (1)Why is ‘change’ a thing to be feared? Is it that people think matters will only grow worse with change? Or perhaps, do people believe that change in the end will conjure insignificant results? Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Jennings School District in St. Louis, met with some opposition to her ideas for change, but in the end many parents have become grateful for it.

In 2010, the Jennings School District was at risk of being taken over by the state. In April 2012, Tiffany Anderson became superintendent of about 3,000 students, more than 90 percent of whom were eligible to receive free or reduced-priced lunches. They needed change and Dr. Anderson was willing to think outside the box. According to Education Week, Dr. Anderson began with setting up a food pantry of “fresh vegetables, canned foods, multigrain bread, and pasta” to meet the needs of local families.

Several other initiatives were spearheaded by Dr. Anderson to encourage parental engagement in their child’s education according to the Huffington Post.  As a way of removing the barriers she encountered when trying to get parents involved, Dr. Anderson installed washers and dryers in every one of her district’s schools as a way “for parents to do a load of laundry for free in exchange for an hour of volunteer work at the school”.  Dr. Anderson believes that poverty is not an excuse for an underperforming school; instead she takes stumbling blocks and turns them into opportunities. In addition, she understands the importance of investing in her students’ futures and that is why her priorities have included encouraging students to take action and become leaders in their communities. With this in mind, she began a “student advisory council that allows student input on district policies; instituted meetings with the local police to discuss crime and collaborative efforts; and made a commitment that at least 30 percent of the district’s employees will be alumni and residents”. Dr. Anderson uses everything opportunity as a learning experience, including the Ferguson incident. When students wanted to hold protests, Dr. Anderson arranged for local police to meet with students to “address their concerns about policing within the community”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg highlighting only a few of the successful changes Dr. Anderson has instituted over the past three years.  Above all, she understands the importance of relationships. “No significant learning can really occur without a strong relationship—in a classroom, in a district, in a school”.  Before Dr. Anderson embarked on making changes within the school and community, she met with parents, police, local officials, and the teachers’ union to define what revisions needed to be made.

She has also successfully tackled the district’s finances, going from a deficit in her first year in office to creating a surplus of $500,000 last year.  With finances straightened out, Dr. Anderson is now setting her focus on obtaining full accreditation for her entire district.  As a matter of fact, she has “hired teachers who had mastered their content areas; accelerated the curriculum; and created a specialized college-preparatory academy, where a select group of 150 students attend classes six days a week, 11 months a year, and will graduate with a high school diploma and associate degree at the same time.”

Dr. Anderson once stated, “I think our only barriers are our mindsets”.  How often do we limit ourselves from the possibilities that we think are beyond our reach, but are in actuality only an arm’s length away? One of my favorite and most inspirational quotes is by Steve Jobs.  “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.”  If we aspire to do great things, with hard work and ambition, communities will flourish and lives will be changed.

Thank you Dr. Anderson for breaking down the barriers and never giving up!

 

Is Our Children’s Future Safe in NYC Public Schools?

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In recent months, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other New York City dignitaries have come together, united in one cause. They believe that suspension is not the solution; the key is to see every child as an individual with emotions. Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Most behavioral issues are deeply rooted. The fruit of the student might be lashing out, but the root may be something completely different. When we look at the child as a whole human being and not a problem, a solution can be found.

Solutions Not Suspensions states that, “Every year 3.3 million students in the United States are suspended from school, causing them to miss critical learning time, as well as opportunities to grow and succeed.” And statistics show of these 3.3 million students, there are a disproportionate number of students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities. Due to this critical epidemic, NYC has begun taking legal action for the sake of its students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently stated, “No parent should have to choose between a school that’s safe for their child and a school where every student is treated fairly. All our schools can and must be both. That’s why we are investing in the training and best practices needed to ensure that when problems arise, we fix them first and foremost inside our schools – not by sending a child home or calling 911 needlessly, hurting their education in the process. These changes will help make campuses safer, treat students of every background with dignity, and provide kids with the support they need to learn.”

Through case study research people are seeing the facts, and the facts are that suspensions are not always the answer. Data also shows that there are major repercussions on a child’s future as a direct result of being suspended. “National research shows that a single suspension in high school lowers a student’s odds of graduating in four years by 46 percent, while students nationwide who are arrested during high school are twice as likely as their peers to drop out.” In recent years, schools have seen a significant decline in school crimes when they incorporate preventative and support training methods.

The school training methods that are being implemented in the school climate reforms are associated with the Dignity in Schools Campaign. Dignity in Schools Campaign challenges the previous zero tolerance and No Child Left Behind act and “advocates for the human right of every young person to a quality education and to be treated with dignity.” Along with Solutions Not Suspensions, they are working to defy the status quo.

 

What do you think? Please share your insights.

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For more information go to Department of Education: http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/mediarelations/NewsandSpeeches/2014-2015/City+Announces+School+Climate+Reforms.htm

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