School Climate & Safety Opinion

Some Things Schools Can’t Do Alone

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 23, 2014 4 min read
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Last week there were more school shootings. The frequency of these tragedies is increasing. Our safety plans are improving and with them, hopefully, the safety of our students. But every minute we have to spend working on safety plans, every dollar we need to spend on safety, however essential they are, are minutes and dollars in competition with the formal reason for schools....learning. To all those who believe that schools must improve, we extend a plea for help.

Like our differences of opinions about the current reform agenda, guns and mental health bring up charged emotions. Sides form and there has been little success finding common ground. We need our legislature to give priority attention to continuing conversations about gun and mental health laws. We need them to create opportunities for interventions for those with emotional challenges to be increasingly available. This will help us in our work to keep our schools safe and in our continued efforts to help students who have mental health needs.

While our law makers attend to that important work, schools still need more help. Not help that costs us more money, but help from the communities that surround us. Partnerships are the only solution to meeting the growing responsibilities that schools bear. Schools that have built successful alliances with colleges and universities, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses in their communities, are the ones that have been able to begin or sustain programs. Sustainable grants that allow for multi-year projects connecting schools with these organizations make the possibilities realistic. As funding continues to decrease, providing professional development and support through partnerships may be quickly becoming the only way it can be accessible.

With growing understanding of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math, schools have reached out to neighboring colleges and universities for expertise in the higher-level applications of these subjects. There are schools, geographically situated near large corporations, that have built relationships offering students and teachers opportunities to learn and be engaged with subjects of study directly in the industry in which they are used. And there are those who have found programs, with grants, that can offer them, free of charge, a way to offer training to their faculties. So in the teaching and learning department, schools have begun to do great deal to reach out into their communities to establish relationships that benefit teaching and learning.

New York State has begun a program called Start-Up NY in which tax-free zones will be set up across the state. In those zones, new and expanding businesses will be able to operate for ten years with “no business, corporate, state or local taxes, sales and property taxes and franchise fees.” Governor Cuomo speaks out against public education, fought for and passed a law tying 20%-40% of the teacher evaluation in most grades to standardized testing results, and put into place a 2% tax cap on school budgets, reducing schools’ capacity to grow and develop teachers and programs. He has missed an extraordinary opportunity to help the very schools he believes need to improve.

Why not add, as a requirement in the law, in order to obtain the benefit of no taxes for ten years...each of those businesses has to develop a comprehensive plan with the local school district that improves the possibilities and produces measurable results for the students? Help from the business should be permitted on “company time” in order to provide the services during the school day as needed. Just a few of the opportunities might include the required ongoing use of their:

  • facilities for training sessions or meetings
  • staff to provide targeted professional development opportunities
  • staff as mentors assigned to students
  • leadership to work with schools on strategic plan development
  • safety expertise to work along with schools in their safety needs
  • technology and technology expertise
  • business to provide apprentice opportunities for all students
  • skilled staff to assist with grant writing

Everything is not as it should be in our schools. We need to be able to attend to the business of turning our schools in to 21st century schools, with teachers and leaders who know how to maneuver and use the digital world as the standard for communication and learning. We need to be able to grow and develop standards and curricula for our students that reflect the world in which they are already living. And we need help. Local businesses, colleges and universities, and not-for-profits that can write grants to support our work are essential. We need to reach outside of our buildings and districts to create as many relationships with those who can help us. And we need our legislators to focus on the laws that will best make that happen. We need them to entice businesses to reach out to schools with their resources. School shootings must be eliminated. Children must be helped to learn social/emotional skills needed to successfully maneuver through our schools and their lives. We certainly cannot do all of this on our own. We need help.

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