Sunday, February 25, 2018

Circle of Influence...

Following the tragic event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, people throughout the country have been debating, discussing, collaborating, and coming together to find ways to improve school security. You can imagine that as a superintendent, every conversation I've had for the past week has touched on this topic. The issue surrounding these conversations is that once again, education is the only profession in the country where 99.9% of adults have experienced it, so everyone thinks they know everything about being a teacher or working in a school. Most people want to know what we are going to do to "prevent" something tragic like that from happening. My response is simple, if we want to "prevent" school shootings from happening, then our schools need to become maximum security prisons. We would need metal detectors at every entrance, barbed wire fences around the perimeter, no visitors or guests, no community events after hours, visiting athletes would have to go through a security check like an airport (if you allowed athletics after hours), students would need escorts throughout the building, not much socialization between classes, and armed guards in body armor patrolling the hallways.

Upon hearing this response, people cringe. While 99.9% of adults have experience in schools and think they know what schools should do, 99% of them also have never attended a single school safety professional development, seminar, discussion, or planning session. I have attended many and every officer that I have listened to has echoed a similar thought; we can't prevent school violence any more than we can prevent a hurricane from happening or tomorrow from coming. What we need to be focused on is how can we minimize this from happening again. Another fact that people ignore is that schools remain the safest location in a public society for massive amounts of people to be. We have plans, we have security, we have locking mechanisms, we have law enforcement support, and many other things that help keep students safe. Malls, movie theaters, churches, concerts, public sporting events, parades, etc.; are not nearly as well planned for protection in such a way that a school is. 

People also want to help, impose their desires on school districts, or know what exactly we are doing. We have already been discussing improvements for the past year to our facilities with our security equipment provider to improve the already superior quality of our system. One of the most challenging things for people to understand is that we don't share our plans, protections, security measures with anyone. Not even staff in the building are aware of the vast length of security measures we have in place. The purpose for this is that the less people know about what we have, the better the chances are of what we have, working if needed. I have been to numerous workshops and trainings on these events and in every single school shooting, the shooter knew exactly what was going to happen in the building because they knew the plans. The most recent shooting was textbook (knew where to enter, knew to pull the fire alarm, knew where to stand, wore body armor, etc.). As a school, our best defense is the secrecy of our emergency plans.

Why do I mention all of this? Because we as a society are focused on all of the wrong things. Money, arming teachers, equipment; none of that minimizes a child developing a MENTAL ILLNESS. Famed author Stephen R. Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses the concept of our Circle of Influence and our Circle of Concern. More about this concept can be found here. Right now, we are mostly focused on our Circle of Concern, which are things that we truly have no direct influence on. We can't change the gun laws, we can't make a deputy enter a building in a crisis, and most of us have no ability to find/allocate financial resources to purchase things we THINK will help. What we need to focus on is our Circle of Influence and attempt to address the root problem, which is social, emotional, and mental health of our children.

I have been working with legislators for two years now on this concern and when I started, I was alone in my pursuit for increased support for our kids. Fortunately, Rome is one of the leading Districts in our region relative to providing support for kids and building partnerships with professionals and service agencies that can provide a better level of support. We have more partnerships with outside agencies to support students in crisis and more in-school supports for children than most every other District in Upstate New York. But, it's still not enough. We need the entire community to help push for true change. That change is ironically the removal of the teacher evaluation law that took effect 7 years ago. I know it may seem like an odd target to improve school safety, but coming from someone who works in schools and sees the impact that this law has on children, it is not only the fastest way to improve student mental health; it will cost taxpayers, the government, and schools nothing. 

Parents took aim at the assessment system being the issue several years ago and were successful in getting the State to amend the way in which assessments were offered. The problem is that the assessments aren't the root cause of the stress in schools. The target that parents took 7 years ago was wrong. The teacher evaluation law and the assessments were implemented in the same year, but most didn't pay any attention to the evaluation law because the general perception of teachers is that they have it too easy (the responsibilities of a teacher are more than you can imagine and we don't have time for that topic here). You never heard much about student mental health and well being prior to the teacher evaluation law being changed. Still to this date, the law has not had the effect that the Governor had hoped. Zero teachers statewide have lost a job due to the new system. It would lend one to think that the old system worked just fine. Also since the law has been implemented, a lot has changed within a classroom. Teachers feel the pressure to follow a script and meet a criteria. Where teachers used to stop everything to work with a stressed out child, allow more time for play and recess, or just teach through having fun; the stress placed on them is tremendous and it has changed the process by which a classroom operates.

What can we do? We can use our Circle of Influence to put pressure on Albany to change this law. Removing the teacher evaluation law (APPR 3012-d) WILL make a difference for our young children who need support. Is it the only thing that needs to happen? No. We still need to find ways to increase support for students AND families that need it. We still need to constantly work to improve our emergency plans and make sure we can effectively execute them. We still need to maintain our focus on kids. But those are all things that most of us don't have the ability to control. Children deserve the opportunity to attend school in an environment where their teachers are not worried and stressed on a daily basis. They need to be focused on helping children (especially elementary age children) enjoy school and life. This may sound odd if you don't work in a school, but it is the reality. Ask anyone how much a classroom environment is different today than it was 8 years ago and they will tell you. APPR has changed the learning experience for kids in a bad way.

Just as we did with the State assessments, let's use our Circle of Influence to make a difference for our kids. I can say with 99.9% certainty that the removal of this law will make a significant difference on the social, emotional, and mental health of our children. If we can improve that, we can minimize future attacks from happening on our children. But it starts with us, it starts with our community coming together to demand change in the educational laws, initiatives and agendas that prevent schools from doing what we know how to do best; work with kids. 

Kindergarten Registration

Dates: Monday, March 5th through Friday, March 9th
Times: 9:10 AM to 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM to 3:10 PM

All Kindergarten registrations will take place at your child’s home school, except for evening registration on 3/7/18 (see below). Home school is determined by your address. For questions about which school your child will attend, please call the Central Registrar’s Office at 315-338-6569 or check this link:

TIME: 3:00 PM - 6:00 PM
LOCATION: District Office, 409 Bell Road, Rome, NY

The following must be provided at the time of registration:
-Original Birth Certificate (Your child must be 5 on or before
December 1, 2018 to register for Kindergarten)
-Record of current immunizations
-Proof of residency (rent receipt or lease, recent National Grid or phone bill, etc.) *
Any child who will be 6 on or before December 1, 2018 must be registered for school