Collaborative Process In Support of Safe Schools

School violence is not a problem of schools alone. Since students are the primary victims and perpetrators of school violence, they hold a critical key to the success of whatever solutions are developed. Schools must ensure the safety and security of students by adopting a comprehensive approach to addressing school safety that focuses on prevention, intervention, and response planning. Schools must also meet the developmental needs of youth and this requires a coordinated, comprehensive, school-community-wide effort that includes law enforcement, faith groups, businesses, government, seniors, community-based and youth-serving organizations, along with students, teachers, administrators and parents.More than anything else, the school shootings of recent years have taught us that school safety is not about any one method of control: metal detectors, surveillance systems, or swift punishment. Nor is it about any single risk factor such as dysfunctional homes and inadequate schools. We have learned that we cannot identify with certainty those students who, for reasons clear only to themselves, will assault their teachers and peers. We now understand that safe schools require broad-based efforts on the part of the entire community, including educators, students, parents, law enforcement agencies, businesses, and faith-based organizations.Efforts to enhance school safety must involve students at an early age and be reinforced throughout their education. Many communities have reduced school crime, violence, and substance abuse by developing comprehensive safe school plans that are integrated into the overall school improvement process.Schools that have comprehensive violence prevention and response plans in place, plus teams to design and implement those plans, report the following positive results: improved academics, reduced disciplinary referrals and suspensions, improved school climate that is more conducive to learning, better staff morale, more efficient use of human and financial resources, and enhanced safety.The purpose of this paper is to discuss the importance of the collaborative process, identify stakeholders,  and enumerate strategies and programs to promote safe schools.Developing School/Community PartnershipsSafe School StakeholdersAccording to Pollack & Sundermann (2001), school/community partnerships are the key to building safe schools and communities. Stakeholders have important roles to play in reducing school violence and improving the learning environment. These people should have an interest and power to create change in the current school learning environment for school safety (Sidoran, 2006). They have to be in a position to maintain momentum, create “buy-in” with others, and sustain positive visibility. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School (2006), stakeholders include people with job responsibilities related to Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and community members who are interested or impacted by SRTS. They are divided into 7 categories.First are the educators: school principals, teachers, school nurse, crossing guards, school superintendent, school board members, teacher assistants, after school program staff, nearby university or college educators, community health educators.Second are engineers and planners: City or county traffic engineer; public works & streets department personnel; community development and parks/recreation department planners.Third are the enforcers: Local traffic officers, head of the traffic division, police chief, sheriff or chief of the state police;Fourth are the school district police; parent patrol and crossing guards; code enforcement officers.Fifth include the community members: neighbors, users of impacted streets, parents, teens, college students, grandparents and community volunteers (Scouts, faith group members, YMCA/YWCA, Bluebirds, sports leagues, civic organizations, businesses). Bicycle and pedestrian advocates, riding clubs and walking groups are frequent stakeholders.Sixth, are the elected officials (usually local) may also become SRTS champions.Last but not the least are the emergency responders — fire/ambulance EMTS oremergency room personnel.Team DynamicsTeam dynamics is an integral part of every collaborative effort in maintaining safe schools. It involves the continuous interaction and coordination of the stakeholders with the school and among themselves. This can be only made possible through active communication and regular meetings. Whenever people come together as a collaborative, with competing agendas, for the purpose of planning we can expect that it will be time consuming, and at times frustrating. Everyone in the “community team” has to exercise patience, courage, honesty, and a commitment that they will build consensus for the group toward a common goal (Sidoran, 2006).According to an article in Cops In Schools (2007), “Each individual and organization brings expectations to the collaboration. Before inviting stakeholders, hypothesize about the expectations and potential contributions each person and whether these are within the goals of the community policing effort. Upon inviting the stakeholders to participate, discuss with the potential stakeholder, individual and organizational expectations for the collaboration and assess if these actual expectations are reasonable and within the goals of the community policing effort. Similarly, discuss the contributions and level of involvement that each stakeholder wants and is able to make to the collaborative effort. “Whether the team is well-established or newly established, there is no assurance that its members will function effectively as a team. Any “community team” that gathers as a collaborative for school safety must be representative of the school community (Sidoran, 2006).  Indeed, one of the strengths of the Schoolwide Team should be its diversity in expertise, skills, and experiences. The common goal of developing safe schools should galvanize all parties to pool their resources and work collaboratively. Everyone in the “community team” has to exercise patience, courage, honesty, and a commitment that they will build consensus for the group toward a common goal. Leadership will plan a vital role as various partners come to the table in the interest of planning for school safety. The role of a leader in a collaborative effort underscores the ability to “make sense” out of the ideas that come to the table and find a way to “fit” competing and comparable ideas together. The leader must be a strategic planner with a long view of the future and a concern for long-term program evaluation. While the leadership style is critical, the concept of consensus, within the community team can be equally as challenging.Comprehensive School ProgramAfter the school/community profile has been completed and the challenges facing a school have been identified through data analysis, the planning team can begin to prioritize problems and designate goals and measurable objectives that address the school’s needs. In prioritizing the problems the plan will address, the planning team should focus on schoolwide prevention and interventions, especially those for targeted students. This comprehensive safe school plan must become an integral part of the school improvement process. For example, after looking at the data and school profile, the team may determine that bullying and harassment are problems. In addition, data may show that discipline problems in the school are more prevalent among boys than among girls, and surveys could indicate that parents underestimate the degree of violence at school.Also according to the California State Board of Education, this comprehensive program should also include a planned sequence of strategies and activities appropriate for all students and should be based on specific needs identified by a broad-based safe school committee. The program should have a major focus that is preventive in nature and supports the development of youths’ assets. In addition, it should include provisions to deal with critical issues, such as truancy; racial conflict; bullying; gang activities on campus; violent behaviors; weapons possession on campus; drug, alcohol, and other substance abuse; and natural disasters.The plan should also incorporate after-school programs and extracurricular and co-curricular activities that address individual student needs to belong and to be respected and appreciated.Finally, the plan should include procedures for accommodating children and youth with disabilities.Furthermore, the State Board believes that comprehensive safe school plans and programs should focus attention on the strengths and experiences that students, teachers, administrators, and other school personnel bring to the school campus; the physical setting and conditions in which education takes place; the organizational and interpersonal processes that occur in and around school; and the general atmosphere or spirit of the school.After the planning team has identified the problems, it should draft a general goal statement to serve as a focal point for prevention and intervention efforts: for example, “For the next 3 years, Golden Valley Elementary School will create a respectful, peaceful, and disciplined environment.” Once the goal has been established, the team must determine measurable objectives. An objective could be measured by using data captured in the school profile as benchmarks. In the example above, a measurable objective could be to reduce the incidence of bullying and harassment over the next year by 25 percent as determined by school-administered student surveys.Identifying Strategies and Implementing ProgramsThe next step in the process is to identify strategies and programs that effectively address the specific needs of students and their families. A program’s popularity or the availability of funds to implement it is an inadequate criterion for selecting a program. Educators should take sufficient time to adequately research proposed initiatives, visiting schools implementing similar efforts and thoroughly familiarizing themselves with new strategies. Slow, steady progress is the recipe for sustained success. Staff buy-in is another essential ingredient, for if teachers are not in favor of proposed change, success will be unlikely. Buy-in can be advanced by involving staff in the planning and implementation of the comprehensive safe school plan. In addition, throughout the selection, training, and implementation process, schools must monitor and evaluate a program’s effectiveness, modifying it as needed to better address their particular needs.Strategic Planning.An ongoing strategic planning process is used to enable schools to identify their specific needs in regards to creating a more disciplined and productive learning environment. It incorporates the use of a template (SSER: Safe Schools Evaluation Rubric) that outlines the process of improving  the school’s leadership teams, promoting school-wide promotion, classroom and non-classroom interaction policies, and individual systems. Problems are identified and analyzed within each problem area. Best practices are established and then implemented at a global level. Effectiveness is continually monitored along a prescribed timeline in order to provide further analysis and possibly other alternatives for specific incidences. All decisions originate from data-based results in order to provide the schools with opportunities to implement positive instructional and learning environments. The school is able to decide what its primary focus and needs is, and analyzes where redundant practices exists so that minimal effort and maximum potential may be achieved (Jannnasch-Pennell, DiGangi, ; Pukys, 2002)Tactical Planning.Tactical planning involves creating a survey site of the school grounds. It is a multidisciplinary hazard and vulnerability assessment carried out as part of the emergency pre-planning process. During a walk-through tour of the facility, each room as well as the surrounding grounds and immediate neighborhood is evaluated. The process involves a team of school and public safety officials using a standardized checklist to note findings and recommendations. When combined with student, staff and parent surveys, a review of reported incident data and the community hazard assessment report, a thorough safety evaluation of the school can be achieved. This process is also among the most effective means to determine which types of security and safety equipment, technology, policies and practices should be utilized at the schoolor support facility.Every school should be evaluated by a properly coordinated tactical site survey team at least once each year. More comprehensive than a fire inspection, crime prevention through environmental design assessment or simple security audit, the tactical site survey is a multidisciplinary assessment of the facility as well as the grounds, parking areas and even the surrounding neighborhood. Tactical site surveys should also be conducted at support facilities, athletic facilities and any other facility operated by a school system. The tactical site survey is also a crisis preplanning activity where criticalinformation about the facility is noted and recorded for use by public safety responseofficials. (Dorn ; Dorn, 2005)Protective and risk factors“Risk factors” are any circumstances that may increase youths’ likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors. Conversely, “protective factors” are any circumstances that promote healthy youth behaviors and decrease the chance that youth will engage in risky behaviors (www.helpingamericasyouth.gov, 2007).Risk factors and protective factors are divided into 5 categories. These are individual, family, school, peer group, and community.When schools foster resilience, students are empowered to overcome risk factors that could lead them into making dangerous choices. And when schools enhance protective factors, they offer youth the ability and opportunity to redirect their energies toward achieving success.To further explain, one risk factor in the family is sibling antisocial behavior. If parents fail to set standards for their teen’s behavior, it increases the likelihood that the teen will engage in delinquent behavior. Conversely, a protective factor is effective parenting.Exposure to risk factors in the relative absence of protective factors dramatically increases the likelihood that a young person will engage in problem behaviors. The most effective approach for improving young people’s lives is to reduce risk factors while increasing protective factors in all of the areas that touch their lives so other interventions should create services that address risk factors and build protective factors for students at risk of developing academic and behavior difficulties. Such interventions can include tutoring, instruction in problem solving, and conflict resolution provided by counseling and mental health staff. Another potential intervention is mentoring, which has been identified as effective in preventing problem behaviors and has a positive effect on most youth (e.g., improving their academic performance and their sense of self-worth).Mitigation of School Violence.All involved in working to prevent or respond to school violence should be aware that no strategy can provide any guarantee against violence erupting. School violence has increasingly come into the public eye due to deadly multiple shootings in both urban and rural areas. Although multiple victim homicides are extremely rare, Physical conflicts, threats, and harassment are, however, still common.These are some of the important causes of school violence: exposure to violence within the family and community, child abuse, poor parenting practices, peer pressure to engage in violent behavior, social prejudices (race, religion, ethnicity, physical appearance, etc.), drug and/or alcohol abuse, and negative self-student image.Again the role of the collaborative process comes into play. Both the community and school stakeholders should develop strategies appropriate for their own particular school and community environments.In order to reduce school violence, one must first start in lowering rates of delinquency, harassment, bullying, suicide, and all other forms of violence and antisocial behavior. Family members, especially the parents, should have an early start in changing their child’s behavior, thus, decreasing would-be criminals.The level of physical security may need to be modified in order to lower schools’ vulnerability to violent behaviors. Administrators should initiate a comprehensive security assessment survey of their school’s physical design, safety policies, and emergency procedures (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2001).The school should also establish a climate that encourages and enables students, teachers to report acts of violence and provide extra counseling to the delinquents. The school counselor should find ways to encourage postive behavior rather than emphasizing on punishment for negative behavior.Student rules must be communicated, understood, and consistently enforced. They also must comply with constitutionally guaranteed due process procedures.To channel violent behavior, the school should also promote free and attractive after-school activities. These include sporting activities, assistance with schoolwork, and social events.The faculty and staff should also be encouraged to challenge the way students think about problem solving. Violence in school settings often erupts as impulsive or irrational reactions to immediate problems.Evaluating the Program and Sharing OutcomesOnce a program or strategy has been implemented, the process of comprehensive safe school planning is still not complete. Evaluating program results should be a crucial component of every plan.The goals of evaluation are to inform schools about what is and is not working so that they modify their plans accordingly. Once the goals of the evaluation have been established, the planning team must determine what questions should be addressed and which performance indicators should be used. The team must also decide who will manage the evaluation and how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted. The data must then be collected and analyzed and the findings reported in a manner that will facilitate their use. Upon completion of the evaluation, the comprehensive safe school plan should be reviewed in light of its findings and modified accordingly.Evaluation helps foster accountability, determine whether programs have made a difference, and provide personnel with the information necessary to improve service delivery. Most important, evaluation can identify whether the implemented program has had any impact on participants’ knowledge, attitudes, and actions regarding violence, anger, and other targeted behavior. When integrated into the fabric of a program, evaluation can be an important tool in improving the program’s quality. The two principal types of evaluation are process and outcome evaluations.Evaluating the progress of a program’s implementation assists the planning team in determining if program goals are being met. For example, after a new safe school policy has been adopted, how is it enforced? If the policy mandates parent conferences for all first infractions and suspensions for subsequent infractions, is the policy effective? If not, why? What would be one way to achieve better enforcement? Establishing the nature and extent of program implementation is an important first step in studying program outcomes.ConclusionCommunities across the Nation are beginning to take proactive approaches to reducing youth violence in schools. While many school districts are mandating the formulation of safe school plans, schools must go beyond merely creating crisis response plans, which do little to prevent violence. Schools that understand the complexity of youth violence and the steps necessary to address it effectively are developing comprehensive safe school plans that require collaboration among community agencies. They are gathering data and using that data to shape planning and implementation decisions to target specific needs. Recognizing the need to go beyond single-focus responses, they are developing primary prevention plans that begin in kindergarten and are reinforced across grade levels. Comprehensive safe school plans support the development of social skills (e.g., conflict resolution) and a school environment that helps students manage anger, solve problems, and treat others with respect. Such plans also provide the intensive interventions needed by youth at particular risk for violence.Our children’s future, and that of our state, depend upon making every school campus a safe learning environment. Troubled children often develop a pattern that leads through escalating behavior problems to eventual violence. We must work tirelessly to recognize early patterns of behavior — such as truancy, vandalism and substance abuse — and implement strategies to prevent youth from turning to more serious crime. If caught early enough, at-risk youth can escape a life of crime and violence.Unfortunately, comprehensive safe school planning will not ensure the elimination of every act of violence on every school campus. Schools that engage in such planning and implement their plans effectively, however, are more likely to foster safe environments for their students and teachers.Finally, schools cannot accomplish this mission in isolation. Success depends on everyone working together — students, parents, school staff, law enforcement, community service organizations, social service agencies, businesses, local government, faith community leaders and all other community members. Success requires partnerships, cooperation, strong will and commitment.

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