AMID THE turmoil about the school district's finances, another issue can't be allowed to fall off the radar - school safety. The district can't suspend or expel its way out of school violence any more easily than the city can arrest its way out of community violence.
But legislation to re-establish the post of safe-schools advocate could be the catalyst for a significant improvement in our schools by providing a place where families can turn for support and response, sanctions and treatment for offenders, and monitoring of the district's implementation of proven violence-prevention strategies. An advocate can assure victims and their families that they will be heard.
First and foremost, the safe- schools advocate must ensure that victims of school violence - students and staff - are treated with care and respect, and provided with emotional support to recover from the harm they've suffered. Victims also need to know that those who have harmed them will experience consequences commensurate with their misdeeds.
Second, the advocate must ensure that the district provides effective counseling for offenders. If the district merely punishes the aggressors without helping them change their behavior, they'll be far more likely to reoffend, creating more victims in the schools or on the streets.
Third, the safe-schools advocate should monitor and report semiannually to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Mayor's Office of Education and the School Reform Commission, on the district's implementation of proven practices in violence-prevention in every school.
Some neighborhood district and charter schools have substantially decreased violence by creating a positive culture with simple schoolwide rules consistently enforced by all the adults, incentives for good behavior, consistent consequences for misdeeds, counseling and treatment for those with persistent behavior issues, and monitoring of data about incidents so that resources can be directed to problem areas. (Others haven't been so successful.)
The advocate should be able to not just ensure that difficult situations are counted and monitored but - more important - prevented.
In recent years the district has adopted a variety of prevention efforts (like anti-bullying programs) without the necessary supports, coaching and continuity. What we need instead is to allow schools to choose from a list of proven programs, provide funds for training and coaching staff on how to implement the selected program with fidelity, track the data and hold principals accountable for improving safety.
IT'S TIME to move forward.
With a broadened mandate and a multifaceted approach, the safe- schools advocate can be a catalyst for sustainably safer schools and an end to assaults on learning.