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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Camden Schools - ACTION NOW!

Today's Courier-Post has yet another article about the poor administrative state of the Camden City School District. This investigation centers on the fact that the district has not been keeping truancy records, sending out notifications, nor working with the parents and courts to monitor truancy. Last week there was an article about the very poor record keeping around teacher absences. The real sticker on the truancy issue is that there are TWO STAFF PEOPLE assigned to direct this effort and they each make over $100,000 per year. They have staff people below them as well. What are they doing to earn these salaries?

The response from commenters and social media are predictable - anger, amazement at the temerity of the district, questions about the competence of the superintendent, etc. But the money quote from this story is as follows...

At the Nov. 17, 2009, Board of Education work session, Young revealed a bombshell that stunned several board members -- the school district had no truancy statistics, nor any plan to combat the ongoing problem.

Young said the district would be developing a new plan.

"I was surprised that for a year, the board has not been told there was no anti-truancy effort or a proactive effort to address truancy," board member Jose Delgado said he recalled thinking when he heard the news.

The board had not been told??? Seriously???? Why isn't this a regularly reported piece of data to the board? For two years they have not seen any truancy data and the board member response is "the board has not been told" UNACCEPTABLE!

Frankly, I am tired of reading about the poor performance. I don't know the skills or value of the super and I don't care. Mainly because it is quite evident that the board has expected NOTHING. Here is what I am suggesting for the Camden City School District Board and I hope the new mayor of Camden, Dana Redd, is listening.

1. the board must set policy benchmarks for productivity in essential areas. They board must demand that the superintendent share her benchmarks for productivity and results in each of these areas:
  • teacher performance including attendance, evaluation, and progress
  • student performance including truancy, grade level performance, and progress toward graduation
  • security performance and safety in each building
  • availability of textbooks and technology by building and by classroom
  • incidence of suspension and dropout by building and grade
  • nutritional report on cafeteria food actually served by building
2. the board must demand responses from the superintendent on failure to meet benchmarks and hold the super accountable

3. the board must set a fiscal policy on rate of return for dollars spent in the district. Then they must demand that the superintendent justify all expenditures that do not support that policy. This is how inflated salaries and excess staff will be identified and remedied.

The board should not micro-manage the district. The superintendent is well paid to manage the district. The board, however, must set policy and hold the super accountable. The board does not wait to be told. The board sets policy and tells the super to provide information so they can assess the success of that policy.

The school board elections are in April. What is the plan for Camden's election? What and who will be on the ballot if anyone? Who will the mayor appoint and when will she share her vision for school improvement? Residents of Camden deserve and must demand answers to these questions.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

School Violence

I know I will catch flack for this post, but this has to be aired.

Here is a story and video about High School kids in Pennsylvania getting tazered at a basketball game. It shows that kids and adults were gathered, yelling loudly at each other, and getting agitated. The police came into the situation and started tazering. There is one view that kids misbehaving, acting threateningly, and not obeying cops must be stopped. There is another view that is seldom heard. That view suggests that these kids live in a very stressful environment and use survival skills that include yelling and standing their ground. Their bravado (and perhaps weaponry - though no shots were fired here) is what they have to make their stand. Making your stand is a primal urge. That urge is not necessary when you have plenty of other means and avenues to make your stand. These kids do not.

The rhetoric that follows an episode like this is usually that cops deserve to be supported and they have to tazer rather than shoot these violent students. I would suggest that there is a clash of cultures and ego going on. The kids are yelling in the hallway. Yelling is a way of life in urban schools and neighborhoods. All part of standing your ground. I see it in schools all the time. Teachers often mimic it because they think the kids will respond. Check the black adult male in the cap who is yelling and trying to tower over the student to make him cower and obey. There is a whole lot of yelling done in urban schools. Check the white teacher/administrator adult figures who are trying to get the students to go into the gymnasium. Let's be orderly. Would you walk into an enclosed area where you don't know what is going on? Not in that chaos.

Enter the police who see their job as ending the chaos immediately, as if their mere presence will ratchet down the emotion, quell the confusion, and bring peace and harmony to the situation. Face it, when the cops come in it is to berate the public into submission using nightsticks, guns, tazers, gruff voices, intimidation and whatever else they have. Usually when they start arresting people it intimidates the crowd to comply. The ego of the police is part of their strategy. We WILL get you to comply or else. We have the means and the law on our side. Ok, that's their job, but at what price? Notice when they handcuff the kid in the gym, the cop keeps the tazer on him lest he squirm away. Appropriate tactic. But once the kid is subdued the cop goes after him with the tazer because he doesn't like the kid mouthing off. Ego. This is not necessarily a case of "bad cops." This is what police are expected to do and we put them into the Colosseum and say, now quiet that mob.

Students, meanwhile are certain that when the police and other adult supervisors get involved that they will be emasculated and stripped of any street cred power they think they carry. Consider that in their neighborhood, that bravado and street cred is what may keep them alive, safe, or at least less likely to be hassled. The cops come in with licesnse to hassle. The tension and dichotomy of the situation is fairly obvious. But we keep doing it over and over.

Answers to this situation?
1. let them fight it out and beat the crap out of each other. Call the paramedics when it's over.
2. bring in more police with more serious weapons and get everyone orderly even faster. Bring more police wagons for those arrested. Build more prisons to house them.
3. make everyone don a shock collar upon entering the venue. If anyone gets out of line it's "dance mailman" (if you get the Cheers show reference).
4. throw up our hands and say there is no answer and hope they all leave school soon.
5. get real serious about attending to the environment in which people live and connect the dots to behavior in schools. Stop yelling at kids as if that will intimidate them into doing their school work or to be quiet in the lunch line. Save yelling for the moment a student gets violent. Engage all violent students in behavior mod sessions - maybe with the police. Talking to each other may be one step in not only recognizing but respecting each other.

Yeah, I'm the bleeding heart that can't stop bleeding. But this notion that kids can and should be tazered has got to stop. We treat stray dogs better than this.