The Total Child

Panel Promotes Equity at Education Writers Conference

(Equity Series) Permanent link

Guest post by Jimmy Minichello, Communications and Marketing Director, AASA

Hundreds of education journalists from across the country along with communications officers representing national education groups gathered last week in Los Angeles for the 71st annual Education Writers Association national seminar, held on the campus of the University of Southern California.

The conference, “Room for All? Diversity in Education & the Media,” focused on a number of critical themes, including equity and newsroom diversity. The seminar provided reporters who primarily cover K-12 and higher education with a lengthy list of story ideas surrounding key issues that have a direct impact on students, schools and communities.

EWA Panel 2018
"Room for All? Diversity in Education & the Media" panel.

On the first day of the conference, one of the opening concurrent sessions featured Howard Fuller, professor of education, Marquette Univerity; Catherine Lhamon, chairwoman, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; and, Pedro Noguera, professor of education, UCLA. The panel, titled, “The State of Educational Equity (and Inequity) in Schools,” was moderated by Steve Drummond, a national education reporter with NPR.

“We need to distinguish between equity and equality,” said Fuller, a former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. “People who are oppressed need more than people who are not. If we’re going to talk about equity, give people who have less, more.”

“We live in an unequal society,” said Noguera. “We tend to look at education in a vacuum. We’re one of the few countries in the world that spends more money on wealthy children than poor children.”

Lhamon, who served as the keynote speaker at the annual Dr. Effie H. Jones Memorial Luncheon during AASA’s 2018 National Conference on Education, provided some food for thought for journalists attending the session. Reflecting on the articles she read on this topic, she said she enjoys “reading articles that clarify who the students are (and) how high level policy discussions translate to the perspective of the student. That’s most beneficial for any reader.”  

Lhamon added, “What you write is what we know. There is an incredible responsibility to get it right.”

About halfway through the session, the conversation shifted to school choice. Fuller responded by sharing “If you have money, you’ve got choice. People who suffer are low income, working class people. They were forced to stay in a school that didn’t work for them that’s it’s not working for their children.”

“Middle class affluent people always have choice,” added Noguera. “That to me is an important issue. We have deeply entrenched inequities in our system.” Nearly three years ago, Noguera served as a keynote speaker at the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy Inaugural Conference, held in Alexandria, Va. Watch his video where he offered 10 points of advice to attendees.

“We have to make sure that all kids have access to quality public education,” said Lhamon. “Schools can transform opportunities and outcomes.”

There were other sessions throughout the conference focusing on equity including the opening plenary session featuring Shaun Harper, a provost professor at the USC Rossier School of Education and the Marshall School of Business.

The mission of the Education Writers Association is to strengthen the community of education writers and improve the quality of education coverage to better inform the public.

As the professional organization of members of the media who cover education at all levels, EWA has worked for more than 70 years to help journalists get the story right. Today, EWA has more than 3,000 members benefiting from its high-quality programs, training, information, support and recognition.

To join the conversation in equity via Twitter, access #Supts4Equity.

For more information, access

Breakfast After the Bell Legislation Passed in New York State

 Permanent link

This guest post was written by Jessica Pino-Goodspeed, Child Nutrition Programs Specialist, Hunger Solutions New York. 

Albany School Breakfast Event
Jessica Pino-Goodspeed presenting at the American Dairy Association North East's National School Breakfast Week in Albany, NY.The goal of the event was to highlight Governor Cuomo's "No Student Goes Hungry" campaign, and present a "state of the state" on New York School Breakfast in March 2018.

 Over half of students who attend NYS public schools are eligible to eat free and reduced-price school breakfast. But less than 1 in 3 of these students eat school breakfast. Low participation in school breakfast is not a new phenomenon in New York State. The federally-funded School Breakfast Program has historically been underutilized, placing NYS consistently among the poorest performing states in a national ranking based on state's efficiency in reaching low-income children with school breakfast.

In January 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a statewide solution to low participation in school breakfast. In the 2019FY Executive Budget, Governor Cuomo introduced a comprehensive program entitled "No Student Goes Hungry". Drawing from evidence-based strategies for addressing chronic low participation in school breakfast, the Governor’s plan proposed a new education law. This law will require all public schools with 70% or more of students who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals to offer school breakfast after the start of the instructional day – also referred to as Breakfast After the Bell – by the 2018-2019 school year.

In April 2018, NYS Legislature passed “No Student Goes Hungry” consequently putting into effect a requirement to ensure high-poverty schools are taking necessary steps to ensure that school breakfast is accessible at all students. Enacting Breakfast After the Bell legislation as quickly and effectively New York has spoken to the level of commitment from both our Governor and the State Legislature to mitigate the impact of hunger that 1 in 5 children in our state faces each day.

Thanks to the vision of local school district leaders, we are not starting from scratch with this new Breakfast After the Bell legislation. Many districts across the state took it upon themselves to implement Breakfast After the Bell early because they recognized that a child could not be hungry to learn if they are just plain hungry. Their leadership is now more critical than ever as new schools that are impacted by this Breakfast After the Bell requirement start to explore changes to their breakfast programs. These successful districts – many of which were AASA grantees– have already served as mentors to both administrators and school nutrition leaders as they implemented Breakfast After the Bell models like breakfast in the classroom and grab and go in their districts.

Breakfast After the Bell is not uncharted territory in New York. Schools are doing it well and gaining recognition. For example, Newburgh Enlarged City School District ranked 3rd in a national analysis of large districts performance in reaching low-income students with school breakfast. It's clear that there is a tremendous success and best practices to build upon across the state.  

Successful Breakfast After the Bell school districts have not only increased their breakfast participation and rebuilt financially robust breakfast programs, but also the impact of their breakfast programs have extended beyond the school nutrition department with positive implications on tardiness, disciplinary issues, and attendance.

This breakfast legislation is a game changer because it levels the playing field among all high-poverty schools across the state to ensure – regardless of where you attend school – breakfast is accessible. Schools face competing priorities, but hunger cannot wait and is a critical priority. This urgency is underscored by the research that links hunger with adverse impacts on children's ability to learn, mental health, behavior, and social-emotional development. Thanks to our state’s strategic investment in Breakfast After the Bell and the enactment of breakfast legislation, schools have a solution to eliminate hunger during the school day as a barrier to student success.

Benefits of Green Time

(Student Support Services) Permanent link

Guest post by the "Screen & Green" panelists at the 2018 National Conference on Education. The panelists were Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools (Md.), Jeanne McCarty, CEO of REAL School Gardens (Washington D.C.)  and Jaime Zaplatosch, Director of Children Nature Network (MN).

Now that it’s officially spring, teachers across the country are getting excited to take their students outside. Whether schools have simple vegetable beds, outdoor classrooms, or full on green schoolyards, both students and teachers reap a multitude of benefits when they spend more time outdoors.

In February at the AASA Conference in Nashville, the “Screen Time & Green Time” panel discussed why it’s just as crucial to take your 21st-century-learners outside as it is to take them to the computer lab. But despite the proven benefits of ensuring children have frequent time and space outside, many teachers and administrators struggle to create and program effective green spaces for children. Our panelists offer some suggestions and resources to help you effectively plan, create, and activate your greenspace.

How to Plan your Program
Jaime Zaplatosch
Director – Green Schoolyards Initiative
Children & Nature Network


A growing body of evidence shows that time spent learning and playing in nature helps children reach their full academic and social-emotional potential. Regular access to high quality green space improves mental and physical health -- and inspires strong connections to the natural world.

While only a small percentage of U.S. schools currently offer nature-filled outdoor spaces, many communities are exploring green schoolyards as a strategy for increasing educational and health equity, and enhancing quality of life. The number of green schoolyards is growing as communities mobilize to transform asphalt and turf grass into enriching outdoor areas where children and families can learn, play and grow both during and outside of school time.

We envision green schoolyards as multi-functional school grounds that offer places for students, teachers, parents and community members to play, learn, explore and grow with regular connection to nature. Green schoolyard features can include things such as outdoor classrooms, native/pollinator gardens, stormwater capture, play equipment, nature play areas, edible gardens, trails, and trees.

Engage partners outside of the school district to develop a green schoolyards program that helps them achieve their mission and put their resources on your schoolyards; consider who cares about each of the benefits shown here and invite them for a conversation. Visit our Green Schoolyards Resource Hub for a step-by-step process and existing resources for creating and sustaining a district-wide green schoolyards program.

 Real-World Proof
Dr. Kevin Maxwell
CEO - Prince Georges County Public Schools

Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland is one of the nation's 25 largest school districts, with an incredibly diverse student population by almost any metric. Maryland was the first state in the nation to adopt an environmental literacy high school graduation requirement as part of their environmental literacy standards and PGCPS embraced those standards with rich program offerings that promoted environmental literacy for all our students.

We’ve seen firsthand how our environmental initiatives support a holistic approach to education, creating robust, real-world learning experiences. PGCPS gets students excited about school and engaged in learning, bolstering STEM learning, problem solving, critical thinking and more. Our students enjoy their outdoor environmental lessons, and love to work on “real world” projects where they solve problems, collect and analyze data, and explore the environment. These are the lessons and projects kids talk about years later, so the deep learning that’s taking place stays with them throughout school and life.

PGCPS is now considered a national model program, and I’ve helped convene superintendents interested in harnessing the power of environmental education. To learn more, visit the Superintendents’ Environmental Education Collaborative (SEEC).

How to Activate Green Space for Academics
Jeanne McCarty
CEO - REAL School Gardens

One of the big barriers to getting children outdoors more often is that teachers and administrators can’t afford to lose instructional time. Luckily, instead of losing instructional time, teachers can actually use the outdoors to teach more efficiently, effectively increasing their instructional time by taking certain lessons outdoors and delivering them in a hands-on way. Studies show that students are more engaged in outdoor learning, and teachers’ effectiveness and job-satisfaction improves when they’re trained to take learning outdoors. That’s because experiential learning in a real-world setting increases student engagement and academic achievement, especially in science and math.

When you provide teachers with the proper tools and training they need to effectively use outdoor spaces to support academics, they feel more confident and prepared to incorporate experiential learning into their lessons and get students outdoors to learn. Administrators should consider providing professional development for teachers that focuses on outdoor experiential learning. We provide one-on-one coaching and personalized support to ensure that outdoor teaching becomes deeply embedded into the school culture and produces long-term results for teachers and students alike.


Blog Tour: Impact School Safety by Learning to Love

(National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

Guest post by Dr. Bernadine Futrell, Director, Leadership Services at AASA, The School Superintendents Association. This blog was written as part of National Healthy Schools Day.

When considering the question, How can school system leaders help children in their district feel safe, as well as have their physical and social – emotional needs met in a healthy school environment?, I look to love.

Centuries of research continue to point to a loving and caring adult as a principle factor in a child’s life¹ . Coupled with high rigor and expectations, love can be a significant tool in the search for solutions for school safety.  

In my experience as a district administrator, educational researcher and now through my work in professional learning at AASA, love – self-love and the love of others has always been a goal in public education. Because it has consistently nourished healthy environments.

Schools who focus on the social emotional needs of students have shown the most advances in other areas of student outcomes including student achievement. Simply put, when students feel like they belong (are loved) the academic outcomes are also positive.  

Students learn love from a variety of ways, including exposure to positive examples of people from all backgrounds and experiences. Creating opportunities for students to develop mental models of success that reflect themselves as well as others helps students develop love and compassion. School across the country are making intentional efforts to introduce diversity in their district leadership, classroom and curriculum.

This mental modeling, helps children see a future that is attainable and positive for them. It also helps all students see value in all humans.

Simple, yet powerful, when kids learn to love, communities learn to love, and when love is spread – environments are safer for all – including in and out of school.

¹Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.

Nothing About Us, Without Us’: Advancing Health through a Youth Driven Lens

(Coordinated School Health, Student Support Services) Permanent link

Guest Post by Cameron Estrada, a School-Based Health Alliance Youth Development Intern and a member of the Alliance’s Youth Advisory Council.


 School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs) have been a safe haven and a reliable resource for me throughout middle and high school. Now as a college student, I still advocate for youth health and leadership with the School Based Health Alliance. I hope to share my experiences, what I have learned, and strategies for how other centers can become more youth driven.  

I have seen each side of school-based health from a student’s perspective. I have gone into my SBHC for check-ups for my physical wellbeing, seen a provider for mental health, and was the president of my SBHC’s Youth Advisory Council. From the primary care side of the center the staff was amazing. They cared about me, remembered my name, and encouraged me to take an active role in my health. My staff treated every client with respect and confidentiality and made the transition to a youth driven SBHC simple. When my SBHC wanted to be more youth driven, they asked the students they served the best way to start a group. The Youth Advisory Council increased the center’s focus on youth. As a council we launched student health initiatives with our SBHC that were important to students. We knew when and how to reach our peers. This aided our center’s ability to help more students and provide the services they needed.

From my experience, there are three key steps to making an SBHC more youth driven.

  1.  The first step is to build relationships. Building relationships with students begins the moment they walk through the door. Be authentic with them and reassuring. You do not have to pretend to be their best friend but encourage the healthy behaviors they are exhibiting. Provide students with youth friendly literature in the lobby. If a student has something they want to know more about but are too afraid to ask, a pamphlet or poster might be the answer for them. It might even give them the confidence to ask questions. Build relationships with the faculty at your school. Faculty can be a great resource especially the health teacher, the advisor of student council, or an advisor of any service organizations on campus. These relationships can connect you to students who might want to be involved with the SBHC beyond a patient level. Lastly, build relationships with community partners. My home state is fairly conservative and my SBHC wasn’t allowed to provide full sexual health services or education (only STI screening and condoms without advertising their availability). Partnering with community agencies who could meet these needs meant building relationships and establishing a steady referral process. This holds true to any service your center cannot provide. Relationships are the foundation for the next step.
  2.  The second step to making an SBHC more youth focused is to ask for help. Ask your students if they would be interested in starting a council. Ask the National Honor Society if they want to fulfill their service hours by helping to create a health fair. Ask your student council if they want to start a campaign surrounding sexual health. It is important to remember that the center is not only a resource to the school, but the school is a resource for the center. You can partner with different people within your school to improve the function and reach of your SBHC. The center can not only be a place of healing and learning, but also a place of opportunity and development for students to make a difference in their schools and in their health.
  3.  The final step is to take action. With better school integration, use your new relationships and resources to do something. This can take on many forms. Ask your youth what needs they have. If your council wants more education and access to reproductive health services, help them educate stakeholders at the school, local, and state levels for better policy suited for this. If your student council wants to create their own pamphlet about the health risks of underage drinking to be handed out with every prom ticket, your center can help provide information to guide them. Even something as small as a school club asking for a staff member from the SBHC to come speak at a meeting about anxiety can be a powerful action. The information you gather from asking for help should fuel the actions the SBHC takes.

 My school-based health center was more than a place where I got my physicals for sports. I learned how to be a leader, how to organize and how to be an advocate. It is no coincidence that, even in college, my involvement in youth health has not stopped. I am a School-Based Health Alliance Youth Development Intern and a member of the Alliance’s Youth Advisory Council. On my campus, Texas Christian University, I am involved in setting up an event called “Take Back the Night” that raises awareness about sexual violence and supports survivors. The skills and confidence that I gained in high school are the basis of my advocacy and a youth driven SBHC was instrumental to my life. From my experience, an SBHC serves students better when they recognize them as partners and assets to inform and lead the movement for quality, equitable health care.


2018 National Healthy Schools Day AASA Blog Tour: School Safety and Positive Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Overview

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

 National Healthy Schools Daynewsletter

 As part of National Healthy Schools Day today, AASA Children’s Programs Department hosted a blog tour on school safety to help stimulate conversation on healthy schools and positive SEL, in response to the debate surrounding our schools in light of recent violence in Florida and elsewhere. Participants were asked to one or both of the following questions:

  1. Considering the continued threat of gun violence in our schools, what does a healthy school look like to you today? Have school shootings altered your view of what it means to be a healthy school?
  2.  How can school system leaders help children in their district feel safe, as well as have their physical and social-emotional needs met in a healthy school environment?

CoCAT school safety pop up

Below is a list of the posts that were published as part of the Blog Tour:

Superintendent Voice

Public Health Organizations

Higher Education Researchers

LGBTQ & Student Voice 

  • Time Out Youth, a youth center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their allies, ages 11-20, in Charlotte, NC and the surrounding areas.  


Blog Tour: Healthy and Safe at School: If not now, when?

(National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

The following is cross-post by Donna Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, CAE , Executive Director of the National Association of School Nurses. The original post can be found here. 

What do you say when a third grade student asks a trusted teacher if she is safe from violent intruders in the school? Who champions implementation of a dormant school wellness policy in order to support students with the best nutrition and physical activity choices? How do you press past frustration with social factors that impact the health of children and youth? On this National Healthy Schools day we ask: How can school system leaders help children in their district feel safe, as well as have their physical and social-emotional needs met in a healthy school environment?

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) envisions school communities where students are healthy, safe, and ready to learn. Violent acts, such as school shootings, threaten the safety and well-being of students and school staff; action must be focused on common sense solutions. As with any complex and multifaceted situations, a multi-disciplinary approach enables interventions.

What we do know is that a healthy school environment begins with a student-centered collaborative approach by leaders within schools and communities. The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model centers on the whole child and incorporates 10 components vital for a healthy and safe school environment. The WSCC model components include.

  •  Counseling, Psychological & Social Services
  • Social & Emotional Climate
  • Physical Environment
  • Employee Wellness
  • Family Engagement
  • Community Involvement
  • Health Education
  • Physical Education & Physical Activity
  • Nutrition Environment & Services
  • Health Services

 That third grade student who wonders if she is safe from violent intruders in her school relies on the trusted teacher who depends on the school administrator who convenes an emergency preparedness of staff and community partners to plan, mitigate, train, and practice response to the plan. The specialized instructional support team, i.e., school counselor, school nurse, school psychologist, and school social worker, focus on counseling, psychological, social and emotional climate.

NASN Blog Tour April 2018

A new school nurse who found an untapped wellness policy in her school district organized a wellness committee that would oversee implementation of wellness policy activities. Parents, school superintendent, principals, school nurses, and community members became the wellness committee. After completing the CDC’s School Health Index – a self assessment and planning tool – the wellness committee had the information needed to learn the school strengths and growth opportunities. The next step involved identifying recommendations to foster a healthy and safe school environment.

Another aspect of attending to student well-being is to acknowledge the factors that are barriers to health. School nurses assess social determinants and connect students and families with community resources that may address those factors.
NASN’s vision is for all students to be healthy and safe in schools. Now is the time for making schools healthy and safe environments.

Blog Tour: Telemedicine Offsets Loss of Learning Time

(Children’s Health Insurance , Coordinated School Health, National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

The following is a cross-post which was originally published by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at the Milken Institute School for Public Health at George Washington University on March 30, 2018. 

This post is by Dr. Dan Leikvold, Superintendent, Lead-Deadwood-School District (South Dakota)

The Lead-Deadwood School District is a rural district located in the Northern Black Hills of western South Dakota. It has a K-12 population of around 710. The tourism, gaming, and mining industries are the primary economic drivers in the Lead-Deadwood Community.

Although there are many outstanding opportunities for workers in the area, as with many school districts, we too have our share of challenges that are directly associated with the effects of poverty. This includes behavioral issues, transiency, limited access to transportation, and a lack of affordable housing. The free and reduced lunch rate in our district is around 50%. 

Over the course of the last ten years, the school district has identified and worked with multiple local and regional agencies to address the needs of our children and families affected by poverty. We realize we cannot be all things to all people, but we recognize the crucial connection between our children being happy, healthy, safe and supported and their ability to learn at school.

As part of this comprehensive approach, the school district entered into a partnership with Behavior Management Systems (BMS) in 2013 to bring a Family Pathways therapist from BMS to our schools/community full-time. All of the children and adolescents with whom the therapists work must meet the severely and emotionally disturbed criteria as outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the program is open to anyone with this diagnosis whether or not they have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This partnership has been a win-win opportunity for both parties and has benefited our children and families immensely. Family Pathways is a fee-for-service program, so the direct costs to the school are minimal and include providing the therapist with an office and internet access, use of a copier, and parking.

After five years of a successful partnership in which we have been able to serve approximately 100 children and families onsite, we have identified another very important issue to address in order to have an even better program. In conjunction with BMS, we will now be providing mental health services to the students in the Lead-Deadwood School District via telemedicine free of charge to students and families, as well as the school district, during the school day.

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services, such as health assessments or consultations, over the telecommunications infrastructure. It allows healthcare providers to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients without the need for an in-person visit with the medical provider. TeleMed is the service provider BMS and the district use for the service.

 The TeleMed program will alleviate barriers for families, so that medication and other therapies are consistent and maintained. Many times, appointments are missed due to challenges with transportation facing students and families. As a result, obtaining and maintaining adequate medication therapy is interrupted. This new approach will alleviate that problem.

This is how it works. A parent/guardian must be present at each appointment with BMS. BMS will handle all release requirements prior to our students receiving services in our schools. Before each BMS appointment, the School Nurse takes weight and blood pressure data for each student so the BMS provider has this information, but the District is not responsible for or charged for any portion of the services provided in the Lead-Deadwood School District. We are responsible for providing a computer and technical support during the time of the TeleMed appointment with BMS. Our students meet virtually with the BMS provider once per month or more if needed.

Students that receive free lunch will qualify for BMS services at no cost and there is a sliding scale rate for students that do not qualify. We will make referrals to BMS based on school and parent communication, similar to what we currently do with BMS on-site counseling services. BMS has contacted the Lead and Deadwood pharmacies and both are capable of receiving escripts.

Instead of taking a student out of school from three to four hours to an entire day, these virtual, in-building appointments will take a maximum of 20 minutes to half an hour. This will allow parents to come to the elementary school, eliminating the barriers of time, transportation hassles for parents and students, and loss of attendance. We appreciate this partnership and are excited to be able to offer this new service to our children and families.

 Dr. Leikvold is also an Education Advisor to the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at the Milken Institute School for Public Health at George Washington University for a RWJF-funded project to provide state and local stakeholders in the education and health sectors with tools they can use to develop a sustainable, cross-sector infrastructure to provide integrated supports for the healthy development and academic success of students. For more information visit the Center’s website or Partner Build Grow: An Action Guide for Sustaining Child Development and Prevention Approaches.

Blog Tour: Three Supportive Ways School Districts Can Create Healthy Schools and Reduce Threats of Weapon Violence

(National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

Guest post by Ron Avi Astor and Rami Benbenishty  


 RonAviAstor  RamiHeadshot
Ron Avi Astor Rami Benbenishty

Ron Avi Astor, is the Stein-Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health at the University of Southern California in the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the Rossier School of Education. Rami Benbenishty is a professor in the School of Social Work, Bar Ilan University. They work together on international efforts designed to support school climate improvement and prevent bullying and school violence. They are co-authors of "Welcoming practices: Creating schools that support students and families in transition" and "Mapping and monitoring bullying and violence: Building a safe school climate." The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.

We are in the midst of a national battle over what our schools should be. How do we create citizens who are A+ human beings in addition to being A+ students? How do we create thriving, optimal academic school environments where the interactions between students, teachers, parents, and the community create a better union both within our schools and for the future of our fractured society? Indeed, we are debating not only what we want our schools to be but also what we want our society to be.

One vision for our nation’s schools upholds the belief that the path toward lasting safety comes from welcoming, caring, and supportive environments. This path focuses on improving school climate, engaging in social emotional learning (SEL), and fostering a compassionate community — in addition to offering a high-quality academic program. This vision advocates for humane social supports, institutional linkages, and community resources for those students struggling with mental health, societal obstacles, and family or community strife.

Another vision is a response to mass shootings. This strategy uses tools and ideas that originate in law enforcement, prison architecture, and military and anti-terror strategies. This approach tries to “harden” schools and aims to protect students from murder by creating prison-like, high-security environments patrolled by armed staff members. 

This is not only a philosophical and ideological debate, it also raises a set of empirical and scientific questions. We believe the answers are quite clear. Decades of well-conducted, large-scale studies from across the world strongly support one vision and not the other. Schools with a positive climate, where SEL is integrated into their DNA, have significantly less bullying and victimization, and have lower weapon use, threats by a weapon, and students reporting they have seen or know of a weapon on school grounds. There is no evidence for the success of “hardening” schools with armed staff members, zero-tolerance measures, and harsher law enforcement measures. In fact, the lion’s share of findings and studies point to negative outcomes of these approaches, including higher drop-out rates, a school-to-prison pipeline, higher expulsion and suspension rates, and climates of fear or restricted freedom.

Our research and experience in numerous schools around the world suggest three main principles that could guide district superintendents to create better climate, more welcoming schools, and lower violence on school grounds.

  1. District- Level Vision: Go for central air vs. window air-conditioning.

Be clear with all district administrators and school site principals how climate, SEL, academics and school safety are integrated into the mission of the district and of each school. There is a need for an overall and comprehensive approach that encompasses every aspect of the lives of schools — a “central air conditioning,” rather than an endless and short-lived series of disjointed programs (“window air-conditioning”). Research shows that when this comprehensive and integrated approach is adopted, climate, safety and welcoming environments are more sustainable, and can more easily spread to multiple schools within a district. When programs addressing SEL, climate, safety and the school’s academic mission separately, these missions compete against each other and are not easily sustained over time.

 From this perspective, the best investment districts can make is to build a core team of pupil personnel, social workers, psychologists, and counselors who work with every school and build sustainable capacity at the district and school level. The long-term yield and the flexibility of this group of professionals would be greater than an evidence-based-program that is not directly linked to the specific social or mental health needs of the schools in that community. Well-trained pupil personnel can sustain and extend evidence-based and youth empowerment interventions district-wide. They can reach beyond program limitations and adapt interventions specifically to the school and community’s cultural needs.

A stable group of district- and school-level pupil personnel staff members is an important defense against the inevitable turnover among school and district personnel. They can help train new educators and other staff members, and maintain the organizational memory.

 2.    Good school safety is an extension of the principal’s vision and organization of the school.

 Research from around the world has shown that the principal's vision and organization of each school is the strongest safety tool a district can employ. In schools where strong leaders have an integrated vision of climate, SEL, academics, and safety, many types of interventions can be effective. In schools with weak organizations and leadership, most safety approaches fail. Superintendents need to find ways to support principals and provide them with resources that can help them carry out the district’s safety mission. These include in-service training for all district and school employees, technological support, and flexibility in using safety resources.  

Strong and knowledgeable school leaders are aware of the unique safety concerns and characteristics of their schools. They resist a “one-size-fits-all” approach in order to create a unique blend of school safety policies and practices that reflect both the shared district vision and the uniqueness of their site. 

3.      Listen to the voices of teachers, students and parents, and empower all stakeholders to take responsibility in creating welcoming schools.

 In Israel and California schools, we’ve employed mapping and monitoring processes that gather the experiences and ideas of principals, teachers, students, and parents. This data helps district and school leaders identify which schools and student groups are experiencing bullying, discrimination, and victimization. Furthermore, it helps identify schools in which students see weapons, are threatened by a weapon, or bring a weapon to school. This mapping process takes a public health approach that focuses on primary prevention across all schools, with a special emphasis on providing resources and support to schools with more challenges. It’s done in a kind and supportive educational way rather than through law enforcement. Evidence-based programs such as threat assessment can be used in schools where threats are high.

We have implemented these principles in several places around the world. In California, monitoring the multiple views of students, staff members, and parents (using the California Healthy Kids Survey) helped leaders understand their schools' challenges and needs, and work toward responses that were relevant for their own particular sites. These schools used students’ voices and self-reports to improve their school’s climate, reduce violence, and create welcoming schools. By building pupil personnel teams that work with administrators, parents, students, and teachers and by allocating resources based on the unique needs of each school and district, there were significant positive changes.

In a recent seven-year study on the use of these methods in 145 schools in California (serving over 100,000 students), we found (for secondary schools):

  • A 55% reduction in gun carrying on school grounds
  •  A 37.5% reduction in knives, guns, clubs or other weapons being used to injure someone or to threaten injury.
  •  A 40% reduction in seeing a weapon on school grounds
  •  A 44% reduction in gang affiliation and participation

Every district is different; every superintendent is unique, but we do think that the principles we outline are flexible enough to allow every superintendent and every district to find their own unique path. Programs without trained staff members do not work. Creating a welcoming and caring setting with a strong knowledgeable staff is the best way to both prevent violence and create thriving school settings that do not feel like prison.


Blog Tour: The Role of Education Leaders To Ensure Safe Schools

(National Awareness) Permanent link

Guest post by Dr. MaryAnn P. Jobe, Director, Leadership Development, AASA

Thanks to the AASA Children’s Program staff for having a blog tour on Healthy Schools today, April 3, 2018.

Schools today and especially the leaders of the school systems have a tremendous job to do to ensure the safety of students, staff and community in today’s world. Sometimes I am sure that it seems like an unsurmountable job. 

As a former administrator for a large urban/suburban school system, we dealt with many instances of school violence and community violence. How do work through this? Well, it is not easy. One of the most helpful ideas that emerged was to hold bi-yearly summits with school principals, school system security and the police. During these day long meetings, the school system employees learned about the newest and best tactics to use during violent situations that may occur on school campuses. And, the principals were also charged with being the community point person.

What does a healthy school environment look like today? Research suggests that educators should focus on the basic needs of childhood: food, clothing, shelter, etc. What is now emerging more than ever before is the need for advanced mental health support. Many school systems have 1 psychologist for the entire school system and there needs to be a contingent of professionals who can work with students. Over the next few months I hope that schools revisit their identification process for troubled teens and look at ways to support them and their families. And, we need families in the community to speak up. If your child is exhibiting dangerous behaviors, call the school and have a meeting about it.

Today, as gun violence in schools is a major focus especially after the shootings at MSDHS in Florida, school system employees need to be better prepared. How, do we do this? Well, there needs to be a rigorous shelter in place protocol, students and staff need to know what to do. School security guards need to be professionally trained by police or training updated if they are already receiving support and communities need to be proactive in working with the children to alleviate fears of going to school. Community forums can help get the word out. We have a lot of work to do.

Schools are still one of the safest places for children to be.