Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Can a Small Group of Determined People Accomplish???

Anything!

A small group of parents and family members managed to get the attention of SCSD district administrators in a big way this morning. They staged a protest at Lincoln, making bullying the center of their pulpit. Frustrated by a lack of response from building administrators, specifically when confronted with bullying issues, they took to the streets showing up today with signs shouting "Stop the Bullying" and "Stop the Violence.

Great job!

These parents have vowed to show up every morning and afternoon to show their support for the kids who have been forgotten in the Code of Conduct debate - the victims. So, every morning at 7:00 they will be there with their signs supporting the students as they arrive at school. And again, every afternoon at 2:10 they will be there.

And now they need our help!

Come to Lincoln to show YOUR support for safe schools. We can never forget - there is power in numbers! The more who show up, the more attention will be shone on the issue of violence in the Syracuse City School District - and the community as a whole.

And stay tuned for future protests at a
school (or board meeting) near you!


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Creation of a Fairy Tale

Anyone who attended last week's Board of Education meeting was witness to a wonderful fairy tale.

As evidence that discipline is still being meted out at virtually the same rate as prior years, the Superintendent informed the Board and the public that the numbers of both referrals and suspensions are virtually unchanged for September/October of 2014 when compared year-over-year to the same timeframe in 2013.


This would imply that behavioral challenges remain about the same, 
in spite of teachers' outcry to the contrary.


If this is the case, then why do so many teachers, parents and students continue to feel that they are not safe at school? That behavior continues to spiral downward, at an increasingly fast pace? That students are no longer concerned that misbehavior will warrant a disciplinary referral?

Why?

If you believe in fairy tales, you might also believe that statistics don't lie? Or that the district is being 100% transparent in their reporting of disciplinary numbers. They certainly wouldn't intentionally try to mislead us, right?

Wrong!

When the Superintendent compares referrals year-over-year, she does not mention that Level One behaviors no longer get referrals. Level One behaviors include, but are not limited to...
  • refusing to respond to staff directions or requests;
  • non-compliance with classroom rules and procedures;
  • goofing off in class;
  • teasing, taunting and name-calling;
  • throwing objects without injuring others;
  • making excessive, distracting, or disruptive movements or noises;
  • engaging in confrontational arguing or backtalk;
  • cutting class; and
  • minor hall or public space misconduct.
When faced with these behaviors - and other Level Ones that are not listed - staff now redirect students and write up "observation notes" to document the behavior. Additionally, unless the violation is egregious, children in grades K through 2nd no longer receive referrals - again only "observation notes."

So... In order to compare statistical apples-to-apples, one would have to take all of this year's referrals and add in all of the "observation notes" documenting Level One behaviors and the behavior of our younger kids. Only then would you have a truly accurate year-over-year comparison. 

Do you think that the picture would look as rosy? 

We don't... It is time to demand the truth from our district leaders! And to also demand that our city and county leaders stop continuing to blindly accept that which they are being told by those in charge at 725 Harrison.

Only when the truth is fully told can we

- as a district, city and county -
begin to work together to address the problem and
help our children succeed.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Last Night's Board Meeting

We left last night's Board meeting disappointed, perplexed and a little bit angry.

Why?

One speaker quoted from our blog, although the quote was misattributed to our friends at Be the Change. While we appreciate the fact that our blog is being read, the way in which it was quoted was misleading. The speaker quoted from our "We're Back... Unfortunately..." post on 11/3/14, where we stated that the Code of Conduct, Character and Support  was "abysmally implemented" thus far. The speaker neglected to also highlight (from the same blog post):
  • that we believed that the Code was borne out of wonderful, powerful ideas and philosophies;
  • our concern with the lack of personnel and funding to properly implement the Code of Conduct, Character and Support, as it was intended;
  • we are also concerned that most schools do not have staff trained in using Restorative Justice techniques;
  • our request that each of us closely watch how the Code of Conduct, Character and Support is actually being implemented and ask ourselves if we really believe that it will nurture and teach students in the SCSD how to behave in society at the level they need to be successful.
The same speaker said we should move past the document - it isn't what is important now. It is old news. Now, action is what really matters. And, our blog was critical of how the Code has been implemented and how staff have been trained. Apparently that is a no-no. Why? If the actions are what matter now, why can't we question the actions that the district has taken to "get this show on the road."

Actions...

The district's roll-out of the Code has been lacking in both timely and substantive actions, in spite of the fairy tale that was woven in the Superintendent's remarks last night. And this is where more people in the audience were perplexed. After visitors were allowed to speak, the Superintendent made her remarks. And last night it became crystal clear why the agenda is set up that way.


Because this way, no one can call attention to her 
misrepresentations or omissions

including:

  • While foster grandparents are in place at most schools, that is a recent development. And already at least one has been punched.
  • 180+ community partners in the buildings. This is not all new personnel! Some of these organizations have had staff in the buildings for years. Sort of like re-gifting...
  • More than 200 people attended the Keeping Kids in School Community Summit. That's news to many, as we've not heard an estimate higher than 125 actual attendees. And many of those were politicians and community agency representatives... BUT, let's suppose that all 200 attended AND they were all parents interested in keeping their kids in school. That still represented less than 1% of the entire student body. When examined statistically, it doesn't seem to be the rousing success that was hailed last night...
  • Students have been trained in the Code of Conduct. Indeed, they have. What was omitted was the fact that the training didn't take place until TWO MONTHS into the school year. Or that at some grade levels, the scripted lessons included exercises in learning their classmates' names, as if they hadn't done that in the first two weeks... Or that most teachers didn't receive the lessons until a day or two before they had to present them, giving them inadequate time to become familiar with the material.
  • While referrals and suspensions statistics are virtually the same year-over-year, no one mentioned the fact that Level 1 offenses are no longer referrals. Instead they are now "Observation Notes" that no one is reporting on. If one added all of the "Observation Notes" to the statistics to present a true year-over-year behavioral snapshot, we'd see a picture of a district spiraling out of control.
Another head-scratcher... How could a metaphor about building a city - a metaphor that highlighted the need to put out fires as they occur, rather than letting the a scheduled timeline dictate continuation without regard to problems - somehow turn into a comparison with how "Eminent Domain" has been used in the past to take over and destroy housing in some of the poorest neighborhoods, even here in Syracuse? What?!! Have we become THAT literal? Or are we expected to be so committed to this path that we follow blindly and abdicate our right to critically and honestly examine the path and make adjustments as necessary, which was point that the original story illustrated.

Now some questions for the Board President...
  • Why are one or two audience members consistently allowed to comment disrespectfully to speakers they disagree with?
  • Why is one Board Member allowed to smile and nod assent to the speakers they agree with, while smirking and laughing at those with whom they do not?
  • Why are those speakers whose positions favor the Superintendent allowed to consistently exceed their allotted time, while those who do not always agree are generally kept closer to the three minute limit.

One can only hope that maybe
next month will be better...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Concerned about the Future of the SCSD

Reflecting on those SCSD administrators who have spoken out publicly about the Code of Conduct, Character and Support, it is hard not to notice how very few tenured administrators are in that group. It is also hard to not to notice how many of those very same administrators are struggling mightily under the weight the very same document that they held in such high esteem...

PSLA, McKinley-Brighton, Dr. Weeks, H.W. Smith, just to name a few...

And now the sudden departure of Geovanti Steward at H.W. Smith. He is the first administrator to leave since the Code of Conduct was approved on September 10th. He announced his resignation on November 6th, just shy of two months into it. While many reports indicate that he is moving on to something "too good to refuse," one is left wondering whether it would have been too good to refuse IF things were going well this year and the lofty expectations he had going into this year were coming to fruition.

Instead, under the strictures of the Code, at H.W. Smith - as in many city schools - the principal's job has been reduced to being a combination of firefighter and student-wrestler. It is hard to imagine many jobs that would NOT be "too good to refuse" when your hands have been tied behind your back and you are no longer able to run a school and help improve the lives of your students.

Geovanti Steward may be the first administrator to leave, but he will not be the last... He was a good man and a good administrator, who wanted to make a positive impact on his school's community.

How many more good people is this district going to lose?

We've lost so many already...

We can't afford to lose any more!

Monday, November 3, 2014

We're Back... Unfortunately...

The Code of Conduct, Character and Support... Great name, right? And when you read it, you'll find it is filled with wonderful ideas and philosophies...

Borne from the assumption that suspensions
have NOT created better behavior or safer schools in Syracuse.

Borne from the assumption that children who are out of school, do not learn.

Borne from the assumption that Restorative Justice will give us
the opportunity to help students be accountable for the impact of their
actions and that they WANT to make changes.

Borne from the assumption that if we teach students
HOW to make appropriate choices, we will be providing them
with the tools they need to make better choices in the future.
And that they WILL.

Powerful ideas... Thus far, poorly implemented. Abysmally implemented, actually. Why? Pressure from the Attorney General's office created an immediate need to do things differently. So, we created a wonderful, philosophically admirable document. But we did it without having the financial or human resources to implement it...

Just saying we are implementing Restorative Justice and a
new Code of Conduct, does not magically make it so.

Without the necessary funds or personnel, we do not have an intervention team within the district that has been fully, professionally trained in Restorative Justice. In many schools, we do not have school-based personnel with even rudimentary knowledge of how to conduct basic techniques of Restorative Justice.

So instead, right now many schools deal (or more accurately, don't deal) with minor infractions by doing nothing. More severe infractions are dealt with by a "time out," reset, or trip to the behavior intervention center (BIC), with (in most schools) very little discussion of the impact of the undesirable behavior or how to make a more appropriate choice later. There IS no student accountability.

And because we are not teaching students the appropriate behavior nor are we applying a consequence - and we are certainly NOT holding them accountable - we have now fallen even deeper into the hole...

  • Just ask the parents of the Corcoran student who was so severely beaten WHILE IN CLASS last week that his spleen ruptured...
  • Or the principal who has been assaulted at least three times since the start of the school year...
  • Or the elementary teacher who spends hours each week dealing with one destructive child, while the rest of the class huddles in the hallway. How much instructional time has been lost for every child in that classroom...
  • Or the parents of the 900+ students at H.W. Smith who had six - count 'em, six - fire alarm pulls in three days last week... Or the firefighters who responded and had to take time to break up "girl fights" while they were there...
  • Or the six staff members who have reportedly already quit at Dr. Weeks, just two months into the school year...
  • Or the teachers at city schools who have requested transfers... 
  • Or the teachers at more than a dozen schools in the district whose administrators are changing Code of Conduct Level 2 offenses into Level 1s or non-reportable "observation notes"...
  • Or the 911 dispatchers who have fielded close to TWO HUNDRED calls to Syracuse City Schools this year. And those are just the calls we know about. Many more may have been reported that never went through 911...

This district is not doing what they promised. We - parents, district staff and community members - need to look closely and critically at how the Code of Conduct, Character and Support is ACTUALLY being implemented and ask ourselves if we really believe that it will nurture and teach students in the SCSD how to behave in society at the level they need to be successful.

And if our answer is no, then we need to hold this district accountable for living up to the promise that was made to the Attorney General when they held the Code of Conduct, Character and Support up as the document that would guide us moving forward.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Racist Sentry?

Awful story in the Post Standard today...

White Syracuse School Guard's 'Joke' Gets Black Student to Assume the Position, Mom Says

In response to repeated requests by community groups, students, parents, teachers and district staff, the SCSD Board of Education approved additional sentries for the elementary and K-8 schools. The goal was to provide additional security and – perhaps – to alleviate the concerns that many had about the safety of kids and staff in our schools.

This was the right thing to do and we applaud the district for doing so. Thank you!

If the allegations in this story are true, what this individual did to this young man is NOT ACCEPTABLE. And to use the excuse that he thought it was “a funny joke” is ignorant best. Had he REALLY thought it was a funny joke, he would have played it on other kids, not just the black male with special needs.

It demonstrates what we already know...
Racism DOES still exist within some individuals.

And this sentry’s alleged actions spoke volumes. But only for him – not for the district, not for the staff, not for anyone else. Only for him…

Please, please, please DO NOT let the actions of one individual negate the hard work that has been – and continues to be – done. And please don’t allow this incident to define our district, our teachers and staff, our community members.


We need to continue working together to create
safe and welcoming learning environments for ALL kids.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Code of Conduct

Many have been wondering about the new Syracuse City School District Code of Conduct. Tah-dah! We have a draft copy right here. Further revisions are expected. Once the draft is completed, at least one public hearing with comments and feedback must take place before the Board of Education is allowed to vote on whether or not to adopt it.

SCSD Draft Code of Conduct

What do YOU think?

Does it go far enough in ensuring the maintenance of a safe, chaos-free learning
environment for ALL students in the district?

Does it adequately safeguard the rights of students and staff?

Will it create an environment where students learn appropriate ways to
handle anger and frustration? 

Does the district have the right resources in place to effectively implement this code?

Will it impact instructional time for students in the classroom?