When was the last time you felt so strongly about a topic that you were moved to speak up and tell everyone what you think? Recently, my buttons were pushed. I was reading an article in my local newspaper about how the board of education had adopted a set of indicators to gauge whether the high school was meeting the needs of its students. The board set a goal of having at least eight out of ten students know at least one staff member well.
After the newspaper published my reactionary letter calling for the board's policy to cover all students, I received a phone call from the board chairwoman. She presented an articulated argument as to why the board chose the 80 percent figure. The district had no such policy before and it would be too difficult to have the staff "buy-in" to a 100-percent figure, she said. But the board plans to incrementally reach all students in the future. The conversation quickly turned to statistical banter about school violence.
The chairwoman argued that my letter would cause an exodus from public education. I was flattered, yet unbelieving, that by calling for greater communication between staff and students, parents would flee the local high school in search of greater protection from a private institution.
When asked if I was an alumna of the high school and if I had felt safe as a student, I realized she had completely missed my point (after all, if you asked a student at Columbine High School in 1998 if they felt safe, I'm sure he or she would have said yes).
I wasn't arguing that school violence numbers were on the rise, that our district was rampant with crime, or even that national media coverage hasn't sensationalized crime at school. I was arguing that the 20 percent of the high school population the board elected to ignore were the ones it should be most concerned about.
Last year, a tip from a student at New Bedford (Mass.) High School prevented five students from carrying out an alleged plot to blow up the high school and kill dozens. The New Bedford Police Chief, Arthur Kelly, recently said, "The key is communication, communication, communication."
Similarly, Dennis McCarthy, former secret service agent and current director of safety and security at Blue Valley (Kan.) Unified School District, was quoted in our May issue ("Talking Heads," p.47) as saying, "Getting to know students and their interests and simply listening is the key to reducing violence in school."
I look at my local school board's initiative to meet students' needs and wonder about their plans to adopt the new education bill. Will their motto be: "20 Percent of Children Left Behind?'
Laura Dianis, Editor