Sharing information will curb teen violence, Daley says

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UPDATE FROM SARAH KARP: On Friday afternoon,
horse-mounted police officers monitored the dismissal
of students from Hyde Park High School in Woodlawn. I am not sure
whether or not this is a common occurrence, if trouble was brewing or
if they were just out in force because of the recent teen violence.  (I
just happened to pick my own children up from school and was driving
by, and thought it would be of interest to our readers.)

 

UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, horse-mounted police officers monitored the dismissal of students from Hyde Park High School in Woodlawn. I am not sure whether or not this is a common occurrence or if trouble was brewing or if they were just out in force because of the recent teen violence.  (I just happened to pick my own children up from school and was driving by. I thought it was interesting.)

Most of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s teen violence press conference Wednesday afternoon was spent announcing a laundry list of initiatives from more police at schools and bus stops to providing jobs for 600 at-risk teens. He also rehashed at least one initiative already announced: Schools CEO Ron Huberman’s plan to give jobs and mentors to over 1,000 at-risk students.

But a new theme also emerged: Schools should get better information from courts and police about which of their students are in trouble.

“Everybody else in the community knows about it except the professionals, and that requires a change in state law,” Daley said. “If every (other) child knows about that child in the classroom and the teacher doesn’t, by law, then there’s something wrong with the law.”

Critics of the school turnaround strategy, however, have noted that the turnover caused by these shakeups sends veteran teachers packing—and with them, the long-standing knowledge these teachers have about students and the community. Most veteran teachers at Fenger, Catalyst hears, left when that school became a turnaround.

After the press conference, the mayor’s point-man on community initiatives, Christopher Mallette, noted that it’s frustrating for school staff not to have access to information, especially from the juvenile courts or the child welfare system. Without the information that the child needs help, staff members are unable to reach out to community organizations that could help young people and their families, he says.

Mallette, who formerly ran the Juvenile Support Intervention Center, a partnership between the police department, the courts and the city, says he remembers one instance in which the mother of a boy arrested outside his school for being involved in an alleged gang fight complained that the school wasn’t safe: School administrators, the mother said, didn’t know that conflict had been brewing.

The mayor’s point about information-sharing was less of a plan than a suggestion, Mallette said. Laws protecting the privacy of juveniles would have to change to allow officials to share information with teachers and counselors, he explained.

Catalyst has asked how much information teachers and counselors should have about students. Whether a parent is sent to prison, or a child is placed in foster care, often teachers are the last to find out. Yet in classrooms, teachers must deal with the rattled, stressed-out child.

Some suggest that the ideally, schools should increase the number of counselors (the current ratio is 350 to 1) so they could form closer relationships with students and families. Counselors would find out information organically.

Daley and Huberman have not suggested providing more counselors to schools.

But Huberman has refused to name which of the 45 high schools will get money under his plan to target the most at-risk kids. He says he didn’t want to “label” these schools as the worst.

But if we don’t know which high schools are getting funds, how will we know whether the plan is working?

Daley called upon police to strategically deploy more resources to troubled schools and bust routes. As part of the “Safe Student Program,” the police department will send an additional 44 officers to patrol during school dismissal times.

Other initiatives include $1 million from Chicago’s parking meter lease agreement to fund at least 500 jobs and after-school programs for youth who agree to return to school or seek a GED. This program is set to launch in January 2010.

Daley, however, insists that inter-agency cooperation and information-sharing will put a dent in youth violence. “The answer is not more money,” the mayor said. “Let’s find out what’s wrong with the family and how to get them help.”