Schools getting ‘culture of calm’ out of the starting gate

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CEO Ron Huberman made the case last week that his signature “culture of calm” initiative is starting to yield results, with suspensions down at some of the district’s roughest schools and fewer students shot compared to last year. Yet interviews with school administrators show that money has yet to reach some schools, and they are just beginning to implement the programs that are part of the $60 million, two-year initiative.

 

CEO Ron Huberman made the case last week that his signature “culture of calm” initiative is starting to yield results, with suspensions down at some of the district’s roughest schools and fewer students shot compared to last year.

Yet interviews with school administrators show that money has yet to reach some of the schools, and they are just beginning to implement the programs that are part of the $60 million, two-year initiative.

 

Catalyst spoke with officials at 12 of the 38 schools that are part of the program to ask about their progress in the initiative. Nine of the principals or assistant principals say the program is slowly getting underway; three schools had yet to receive a penny.

According to Huberman, the six schools where the district decided to implement intensive help and more money experienced a 77 percent drop in serious misconducts leading to suspension. He also noted that 46 fewer students from those schools were shot compared to last year, although it is worth noting that none of the much-publicized shootings of CPS students have occurred on school grounds, making it virtually impossible to gauge the impact of school-based programs on such shootings.

A Catalyst analysis of police reports on violent incidents at the six schools shows a mixed bag: Since the start of the school year, Manley, Robeson and Harlan high schools have had fewer incidents compared to last year, while Clemente and Farragut have had slightly more. (Julian continued to report only a handful of incidents compared to the other five schools.)

At Farragut, Principal Steven Parker says his school only received funding for the program in the middle of March, and CPS officials instructed him exactly how to allocate the funds. Farragut used some of the money to hire a culture-of-calm coordinator, Cedric Nolen, who started the job in late May. Nolen says he immediately started working on several programs, including peer juries, peace circles, mentoring and youth leadership.

Nolen says peer juries and peace circles give students an opportunity to talk about how another student’s misbehavior affected the victim and others at the school. The students discuss alternatives for discipline, to ensure the offender does not repeat his or her actions.

Farragut also has begun to implement another program in which at-risk students are paired with a paraprofessional, such as a psychologist or nurse, who learns more about the student’s emotional needs in order to better help them improve their behavior.

“We look forward to how it’s really going to jump off,” Parker said.

At Kelly High School, one of the 32 schools that got a smaller pot of money, Assistant Principal Brian Richter said his school used some of its $200,000 to pay their security guards to work beyond regular school hours so that students could safely walk to and from the bus stop and the school.

As a result, Richter said, “our attendance rate has improved. Our incidence of violence has gone down.”

Kelly also instituted an in-school suspension room as an alternative to out-of-school suspensions, Richter said.

Simeon Career Academy hired its culture-of-calm coordinator, Patrick Kirkwood, in April. He is focusing on identifying at-risk students and developing alternative discipline strategies to avoid suspension.

The South Shore School of Technology also hired its coordinator, Carlos Smith, at the end of April. Smith has been focused on raising parent involvement and helping them to understand the culture of calm program. Among his goals are identifying at-risk students and developing alternative discipline strategies.

Smith hopes to foster more accountability among students for their behavior.

“I let them know that I will be an advocate for you, but you have to live up to your end of the bargain,” Smith says. “You have to strive to be more respectful, and that in turn will help all of us grow as a school.”

Smith says he has already seen improvements. The attendance rate has increased, discipline referrals have decreased and the staff and students seem to be getting along better, Smith said.

“Even though it hasn’t been long-term yet, the kids are really excited about it, and not only the kids, but the staff as well,” Smith says.