"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Monday, November 29, 2010

School Safety and Spending Tax Dollars

School safety has been much in the news lately--and, not surprisingly, Dr. Ackerman (Philadlephia's School Superintendent) has recently been in the news for that reason.
Apparently, Dr. Ackerman's extreme concern for the safety of all her students led her to take a few shortcuts and award a no-bid contract for camera installation in an improper manner. Ackerman's actions with taxpayers' money and her imperious attitude are disturbing enough, but the really bothersome part of this whole issue is that the camera installation was scheduled and paid for ONLY because the State Department of Education was about to release a report saying that many of our district's schools remain dangerous. It does not seem to me and many others who work in schools that Ackerman was truly concerned about the safety of those students in her care--what she was concerned about was the appearance of action. She wanted to be seen to be doing something--it does not matter if the cameras will really help keep kids safe, just as long as it seems that way. As the Metropolis blog discussed this morning, looks appear to be paramount to this administration. Will cameras, which will only record what is happening to identify perpetrators after the fact, really make schools safer? Or, is it just a way to put money in the pockets of school district cronies and place a band-aid on the deeper, more systemic problem?
Anyone who works in a school knows that the problem of school violence is incredibly complex. Almost no student comes to school wanting to wreak havoc and hurt other people. They do come to school, however, very angry and sometimes bewildered with the circumstances of their own lives that are out of their control. Kids act out in school because it is a safe place to do so. Cameras do exactly NOTHING to help these situations. What does help is creating a climate of safely, accountability, and acceptance for all our students. What helps create this climate? Good administrators who are not running in fear from an autocratic leader, stable school staff and teachers who have time to get to know their students and families, and support staff who can work with students. These things all cost money, but they are not machines that can be trotted out for the media to prove that the powers that be are truly doing something. That is not to say that cameras and other security measures are not important and helpful, but they really are only a very small part of the solution. Ensuring safe schools takes time and a schools chief who respects her people and students enough to ask them to collaboratively create good school climates and supports them in the complicated effort to do so.