Milwaukee Tests New Safety Plan
This fall, the Milwaukee public- school system joined the handful of districts across the country implementing a federal pilot project designed to identify behavior problems in the schools and coordinate community efforts to solve them.
"Safer Schools--Better Students," a demonstration project funded by the U.S. Departments of Justice Department and Education, has been tested for the past two years in 44 schools in Jacksonville, Fla., Rockford, Ill., and Anaheim, Calif.
The National Alliance for Safe Schools, a nonprofit research group made up of school-safety experts, is helping to implement the program by adapting information-management and decision-making techniques to the special circumstances of school security.
The group's goal, said Thomas Albrecht, coordinator of the program for the National Institute of Justice, is to develop procedures that rely on training and group problem-solving rather than more costly equipment.
In the pilot project, procedures in three basic areas of school safety are being tested:
Data Collection and Analysis: Using standardized incident-reporting forms, information on violations of law or school regulations is entered into a computer in each of the schools, giving the principal an accurate overview of the situation. Legal violations and breaches of school rules are compiled separately to facilitate consistent and appropriate handling for each.
School Teams: A group made up of students, parents, teachers, and support staff members meets regularly with the principal and assistant principal to discuss the computer-generated data and devise ways of preventing the behavior it catalogs. Sharing information and perspectives with non-administrators has helped school officials develop more creative and comprehensive approaches, Mr. Albrecht says.
'High-Command' Meetings: At the district level, the superintendent meets with juvenile-court judges, probation officers, prosecutors, and police to agree on procedures for handling criminal incidents in the schools. Project participants report that the information shared in these meetings has helped them do their own jobs more effectively.
"This is not a typical federal program, in that we only provide technical assistance," said Mr. Albrecht. "Local officials retain full control of how and when to use any of the procedures we supply them with."
But so far, the officials have had high praise for the project's methods and objectives.
"We benefited tremendously from the pilot project," said Leroy L. Kellogg, an administrative assistant in the Anaheim Union School District, where 19 schools joined the program two years ago.
In one Anaheim school, the project uncovered a significant class-cutting problem. After teachers began locking doors at the beginning of class and rounding up stray students in the hallways, Mr. Kellogg said, class absences dropped by at least 50 percent.
Now that the program is in place, said Mr. Kellogg,"administrators feel they have an effective tool available to help them solve problems."
The federal role in the Jacksonville program has ended, but school- and district-level meetings are continuing there and have proven helpful, according to Mosetta Soskis, assistant to the superintendent of the Duval County (Fla.) Public Schools.
Prior to the pilot project, there were no contacts between the juvenile-justice system and the schools, she said. Now, representatives of each work together on an almost daily basis, she said.
"We were rarely notified when a student was arrested," said Ms. Soskis. Today, she said, juvenile-court judges provide the principal with a supplemental court order when a student is sentenced, detailing the role the school will play in the student's rehabilitation.