With school safety, approach needs to be comprehensive
Last year, the state Legislature approved $25 million for physical safety improvements to schools. While we appreciate the effort of the legislature to provide some additional funding, that amount didn’t cover one-tenth of what school districts requested, and even that’s likely just a fraction of what is needed.
While this small offering from legislators clearly fell far short in serving schools and our students, the real shortcoming is thinking that physical improvements are what will make our schools safe.
When we think “school safety,” we tend to think of the most nightmarish situation - a person with a gun entering school intending the worst. But what we should be thinking about is meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of every student every day. When we have supports like social workers, deans, counselors, cultural liaisons and school psychologists, students are less likely to fall through the cracks and they are more likely to get the help they might need.
In District 191 schools, we’ve put some of those pieces in place over the past few years. Each school has a social worker who can connect families to services and other resources in the community. The role of our school psychologists has been redefined to increase their involvement at the building level. Our secondary schools have school counselors. We have cultural liaisons who connect our schools to families new to our community so that they know how their children are doing and how they can be involved. Our partnership with a private therapy organization makes it so students can access therapeutic counseling services without leaving school. Our work over the last three years has been to put a high quality wrap-around team to support all students’ social emotional needs in all of our sites
At our middle schools, we invested in deans, licensed educators who have the knowledge, experience and authority to work with students and their families to meet needs and address behaviors in a productive, proactive way so that students can succeed academically. The change is already having an impact. Eagle Ridge Principal Erika Nesvig reported at a recent board meeting that non-attendance based referrals are down 35 percent and suspensions are down 39 percent, over the first half the year compared to 2017-18.
When we think of school safety, we have to start by addressing students’ needs. Ultimately, that is the investment that will have the greatest impact on the safety of our students.
This column originally appeared in the Savage Pacer on Feb. 21, 2019.