CATEGORY: EDT Editorials
Mississippi’s legislative leadership laid out a pre-session agenda with a long-term strategy aimed at dramatically reducing juvenile crime and violence at the top of the list. Mississippi State University’s College of Education provided timely distribution late last month of documented research dealing with the reduction of violence and criminal behavior in schools.
The series of scholarly presentations at the Mississippi Academy of School Executives early in 1995 encompasses wide-ranging research and proposals. The papers’ scope is not limited to Mississippi; the problem is nationwide and much common ground is shared by all kinds of schools in different places. However, what the research documents has the ring of local familiarity for many Mississippi schools. Proposals for improvement, similarly, carry the weight of common sense backed by careful research and study. The study’s title is “Creating Safe Schools: Positive Responses to Violence in Schools.”
The Legislature, of course, cannot by itself solve juvenile crime and its invasion of many public schools. Laws, policies and regulations remain virtually worthless paper unless they’re given life by people who want problems solved. Schools, in the same way, cannot solve problems, even with the state’s backing, unless people in local school communities want to solve them. One of the challenges confronting the Legislature is linking laws and regulations with local, positive action.
Dr. Marie Somers Hill, one of those presenting papers at the academy, provides a framework that should be helpful to legislators and local school communities. Her paper, “Influencing Safe Schools Four Imperatives for Principals,” provides insightful information about the reasons many schools experience problems related to violence and crime. She also makes straightforward suggestions, based on research and the experience of school districts, about solving problems.
Her imperatives may be practiced already by some school districts, but honest observation will show that some districts have plenty of room for improvement:
– Adults must be highly visible, beginning with the school principal. The adult presence should include parents and community leaders. Hill notes that it is especially important for “parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds” to take part because “their children commonly improve in attendance, demonstrate a better attitude toward school, and, as a result, begin to experience more academic success.” She also stresses the importance of involving adults who do not have children in the public schools because only one in six households have children in public schools.
– Occupy students’ time inside and outside the classroom. Hill’s proposal, in effect, calls for actively occupying children’s time in positive ways throughout the day, with the community taking up the slack when parents don’t provide the structure and disciplined use of time that develops and undergirds personal responsibility. Her suggestion is not for government to do everything but for communities (churches, civic clubs, individuals) to take a greater and much broader role.
– Develop and demand high expectations. The high expectations don’t start in the school but in the community. High expectations translated into the schools lead to higher academic achievement.
“On the other hand,” Hill said, “when the expectations for student performance are negative, the potential for violence, vandalism and other forms of angry expression increase.”
She adds parental involvement, again, as a critical component for success.
– Train school faculty, staff and administrators in effective ways about handling serious, potentially violent, problems. She also suggests that training in handling other kinds of crises, like disasters, become a requirement. Finally, inform parents about the training and ability of teachers to handle difficult situations.
The Legislature’s role can’t become micromanagment of every school district and school building. Its role can and should be providing laws, policies and incentives for local school districts to achieve Hill’s practical and positive goals. Mississippi’s State’s work provides a valuable resource from which lawmakers may draw good ideas.