"It takes a village to raise a child." - African proverb
Take a look at the School District of Lee County and you will note that there is a balance of strengths and success: great students, highly qualified educators, state-of-the-art equipment, but many challenges: budget shortfalls and social issues. In essence, our schools are a reflection of the diverse general society.
Education is the key economic driver for our community, therefore it is incumbent upon us to focus on the education of youth, and this must be done in collaboration with parents and the community.
Recently the School Board and Superintendent were challenged by the community to address two specific issues which impact our student achievement bullying and Code of Conduct violations. We were asked to create a comprehensive plan to address these issues, and we did agree to review and refine the process.
Make no mistake, this District is working on addressing student safety and academic achievement each day, but this request from the community has highlighted the importance of doing so in a more overtly.
Two important responsibilities of any school are providing the safest possible learning environment possible and reducing the frequency of negative student behaviors. To meet these goals, we may employ zero tolerance policies for infractions ranging from weapons violations to bullying to not following instructions. However, surprisingly little research exists that examines the effectiveness of this approach. In some instances, such as bullying, these policies may actually deter other students from coming forward and identifying the offending student.
There are several effective, non punitive approaches towards negative behavior such as targeted behavioral supports for at-risk students, which have been shown to reduce violent behavior in school. Other alternatives that take a largely preventive approach to violence and misbehavior (i.e. character education, social skills programs and schoolwide positive behavior interventions and supports) have also been shown through rigorous, experimental evaluations to have significant, positive impacts on student behavior as well as on academic achievement. Increased time on task is another successful alternative strategy.
Zero tolerance policies evolved from a belief among some educators and parents that a failure to strongly punish misbehavior sends a message that a school is not serious about the safety of students and staff. Preventive approaches to school violence and student misbehavior hold great promise. These approaches not only help to prevent or minimize negative behaviors, but also promote positive youth development and skills that will help students in the classroom and beyond.
In addition, when schools work together with families to support learning, very good things happen: student attitudes, attendance, homework and report cards improve. President Barack Obama said: "Responsibility for our children's education must begin at home". There is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent for a mother, father or mentor who will attend parent/teacher conferences, help with homework, turn off the TV and video games and read with a child.
Relationships are a critical part of creating a positive, productive environment. Have you ever heard of the book FISH (by Lundin, Paul, Christensen and Blanchard) that is used to motivate workers? The story is based on Pike's Fish Market in Seattle. It encourages people to enjoy what they do, explaining how to motivate the team to "want" to do good." The concept of "playing," "being present," "making someone's day" and "choosing your attitude" is the overall message. You can imagine how great customers feel when they visit the Market and someone makes their day.
As times are more challenging, we are being challenged to find ways to make our schools stand out. We must make people feel needed and appreciated when they come to work, to learn or to support. We must work together to set the scene for student achievement and ultimate economic development.
Towards this end, we welcome students, parents, business and arts community members to join with us as we focus on our mission: to ensure that each student achieves his/her highest potential, and our vision: to be a world class school system.
Mary Fischer is the Lee County School Board chairman, District 1.