First Person

This week's safe schools snippets

Common Sense Media runs new campaign to curb cyberbullying

When you hear the word “cyberbullying,” the victim and bully come to mind. What about the bystanders? These silent witnesses play a big part in the vicious circle of bullying. That’s why speaking up has never been more important. Take the pledge and watch the video at Common Sense Media.

Emily’s Parade promotes school safety

A parade for both motorcyclists and runners that pays tribute to the memory of Emily Keyes, victim of a school Emily Keyesshooting, raises money, and promotes school safety. The event will be held Sunday, Sept. 25.

The Parade consists of two events: a 45 mile motorcycle ride between Columbine High School, 6201 S. Pierce St., Littleton, and Platte Canyon High School, on U.S. Highway 285 near Bailey, Colo., an annual ritual initiated by riders 10 days after Emily’s death, and a timed 5K run at Platte Canyon in tribute to emergency first responders around the country. Both events are open to the public. Suggested donations and participant sponsorships support The “I Love U Guys” Foundation programs and initiatives.

Online registration for the ride is at http://iloveuguys.org/ride_registration.pl For the ER5K use http://iloveuguys.org/run_registration.pl. At Columbine, gates open at 8 a.m., bikes out at 11:15 a.m. At Platte Canyon, gates open at 9 a.m., runners out at 11:15 a.m. Steve Crenshaw and friends will be playing at Platte Canyon.

More bullying cases have parents turning to courts

Jon Timothy and Tami Carmichael of Cleburne, Texas, are convinced their 13-year-old son Jon’s suicide in March 2010 was the result of daily bullying by peers and the lack of action taken by school officials. Read more in USA Today.

“48 Hours” to air special on bullying in the digital age

Reported by correspondent Tracy Smith, the program airing Friday, Sept. 16 (8 p.m. ET/PT) reveals how the explosion in technology is only making bullying worse, as victims cannot find relief from their tormentors in a 24/7 digital world. The report will have important new information for parents, educators and legislators about how bullying affects children and how to address it. Check out this CBS News report.

Panel finds post-Columbine disciplinary policies criminalize students

Colorado lawmakers and police said Monday that strict disciplinary policies at schools created after the Columbine High School shootings should be scaled back or scrapped and that administrators should have more control over student punishment. Read more in the Washington Post.

N.J. schools brace for anti-bullying rules’ impact

Supporters of New Jersey’s newly amended anti-bullying law say it will create a tough safety net for students who had been afraid to go to school because of continued bullying, even as administrators and others brace for the impact from increased reporting requirements. Read this EdWeek story.

In suburb, battle goes public on bullying of gay students

ANOKA, Minn. — This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools. Read more in the New York Times.

Bullying prevention via Shakespeare in Colo. schools

Colorado Shakespeare Festival actors will perform a 17th century play in more than 25 schools from Fort Collins to William ShakespeareTrinidad this fall to set the stage for modern-day discussions about school bullying as part of a collaboration between the festival and the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

From Sept. 20 through Oct. 21, the three-person theater troupe will perform a 50-minute abridged version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” followed by a post-show talk with the actors and classroom workshops centered on bullying prevention. Participating elementary, middle and high schools will receive a study guide about the play’s contemporary relevance and proven anti-bullying interventions and information from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. Read more in this CU press release.

Broomfield police to host school safety presentation

The Broomfield Police Department will host a school safety discussion, “Speaking a Common Language During a School Crisis,” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road.

John-Michael Keyes, executive director of the I Love U Guys Foundation, will present the School Safety Standard Response Protocol. The protocol has been adopted by Adams 12 and Boulder Valley school districts, as well as numerous districts across the country.

The I Love U Guys Foundation was created after the shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, in which student Emily Keyes was killed by a gunman. The foundation was named after the last text message she sent to her parents while being held hostage. The Standard Response Protocol was developed by the foundation in collaboration with law enforcement and safety agencies, school administrators, students and teachers.

Topics of the Oct. 4 presentation will include the story and aftermath of the Platte Canyon High School shooting, dispelling the concept that “it can’t happen here,” and a new way to engage in the conversation about school safety. The presentation is ideal for students and families, school administrators and faculty, emergency managers, fire personnel, emergency medical services, law enforcement and public health officials, according to a news release.

For more information, call Broomfield Police public education coordinator Joleen Reefe at 720-887-2084.

University study links school bullying to lack of sleep

A new study suggests not getting enough sleep can get you into trouble — and not just with your doctor.

That was the conclusion of a University of Michigan study published in the journal “Sleep Medicine” last month that suggested children who are bullies are more likely to have sleep problems.

It’s also something Elgin School District U46 officials said they see in schools “all the time.” Read more in the Courier-News.

Psychiatrists prescribe remedies for school bullying

Bullying in school is a process that arises out of toxic group dynamics, not a problem originating with a single troubled person. It may not feel that way when you’ve just been jeered at by one of the stars of the school’s athletic program or the meanest girl in your grade just posted a nasty comment on your Facebook wall, but that is how the American Psychiatric Assn.’s first foray into the subject describes bullying, and it shapes how the nation’s psychiatrists propose to help stamp out the practice. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Boulder Valley high schools get concussion help for athletes

Centaurus High School athletic director Paul Roper has started paying more attention to student concussions.

Last school year, he instructed coaches to introduce a gradual return to play for athletes with concussions, starting with exercise and low-impact practices instead of an immediate return to full contact play.

This year, he will have another tool — baseline concussion testing — to help gauge when it’s safe for an athlete to get back in the game. Read more in the Colorado Hometown Weekly.

Elementary student brings live bullets to Boulder school

A student at Boulder’s Foothill Elementary brought two live bullets to school Monday, separating one of the bullets from its casing by hitting it on a rock, according to a letter from the principal sent to parents.

During third-grade recess, the student set off the bullet’s primer while hitting it on the rock, making a loud noise, according to Principal Melissa Ribordy. But the .22-caliber bullet was never fired, and no one was hurt. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Parents and teachers learn valuable info at  school safety forum

Since the school shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 and the recent outbreak of reports of kids committing suicide due to bullying, the safety of students has become a concern of utmost importance for parents, teachers and school administrators nationwide. Read more in Our Colorado News.

First Person

What we’ve learned from leading schools in Denver’s Luminary network — and how we’ve used our financial freedom

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Cole Arts and Science Academy Principal Jennifer Jackson sits with students at a school meeting in November 2015.

First Person is a standing feature where guest contributors write about pressing issues in public education. Want to contribute? More details here

Three years ago, we were among a group of Denver principals who began meeting to tackle an important question: How could we use Colorado’s innovation schools law to take our schools to the next level?

As leaders of innovation schools, we already had the ability to make our own choices around the curriculum, length of school day, and staffing at our campuses. But some of us concluded that by joining forces as an independent network, we could do even more. From those early meetings, the Luminary Learning Network, Denver’s first school innovation zone, was born.

Now, our day-to-day operations are managed by an independent nonprofit, but we’re still ultimately answerable to Denver Public Schools and its board. This arrangement allows us to operate with many of the freedoms of charter schools while remaining within the DPS fold.

Our four-school network is now in its second year trying this new structure. Already, we have learned some valuable lessons.

One is that having more control over our school budget dollars is a powerful way to target our greatest needs. At Cole Arts & Science Academy, we recognized that we could serve our scholars more effectively and thoughtfully if we had more tools for dealing with children experiencing trauma. The budget flexibility provided by the Luminary Learning Network meant we were able to provide staff members with more than 40 hours of specially targeted professional development.

In post-training surveys, 98 percent of our staff members reported the training was effective, and many said it has helped them better manage behavioral issues in the classroom. Since the training, the number of student behavior incidents leading to office referrals has decreased from 545 incidents in 2016 to 54 in 2017.

At Denver Green School, we’ve hired a full-time school psychologist to help meet our students’ social-emotional learning goals. She has proved to be an invaluable resource for our school – a piece we were missing before without even realizing how important it could be. With a full-time person on board, we have been able to employ proactive moves like group and individual counseling, none of which we could do before with only a part-time social worker or school psychologist.

Both of us have also found that having our own executive coaches has helped us grow as school leaders. Having a coach who knows you and your school well allows you to be more open, honest, and vulnerable. This leads to greater professional growth and more effective leadership.

Another lesson: scale matters. As a network, we have developed our own school review process – non-punitive site visits where each school community receives honest, targeted feedback from a team of respected peers. Our teachers participate in a single cross-school teacher council to share common challenges and explore solutions. And because we’re a network of just four schools, both the teacher council and the school reviews are small-scale, educator-driven, and uniquely useful to our schools and our students. (We discuss this more in a recently published case study.)

Finally, the ability to opt out of some district services has freed us from many meetings that used to take us out of our buildings frequently. Having more time to visit classrooms and walk the halls helps us keep our fingers on the pulse of our schools, to support teachers, and to increase student achievement.

We’ve also had to make trade-offs. As part of the district, we still pay for some things (like sports programs) our specific schools don’t use. And since we’re building a new structure, it’s not always clear how all of the pieces fit together best.

But 18 months into the Luminary Learning Network experiment, we are convinced we have devised a strategy that can make a real difference for students, educators, and school leaders.

Watch our results. We are confident that over the next couple of years, they will prove our case.

Jennifer Jackson is the principal of Cole Arts & Science Academy, which serves students from early childhood to grade five with a focus on the arts, science, and literacy. Frank Coyne is a lead partner at Denver Green School, which serves students from early childhood to grade eight with a focus on sustainability.

First Person

Let’s be careful with using ‘grading floors.’ They may lead to lifelong ceilings for our students

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

I am not a teacher. I am not a principal. I am not a school board member. I am not a district administrator (anymore).

What I am is a mother of two, a high-schooler and middle-schooler. I expect them both to do their “personal best” across the board: chores, projects, personal relationships, and yes, school.

That does not mean all As or Bs. We recognize the sometimes arbitrary nature of grades. (For example, what is “class participation” — is it how much you talk, even when your comments are off topic?) We have made it very clear that as long as they do their “personal best,” we are proud.

That doesn’t mean, though, that when someone’s personal best results in a poor grade, we should look away. We have to ask what that grade tells us. Often, it’s something important.

I believe grading floors — the practice (for now, banned in Memphis) of deciding the lowest possible grade to give a student — are a short-sighted solution to a larger issue. If we use grade floors without acknowledging why we feel compelled to do so, we perpetuate the very problem we seek to address.

"If we use grade floors without acknowledging why we feel compelled to do so, we perpetuate the very problem we seek to address."Natalie McKinney
In a recent piece, Marlena Little, an obviously dedicated teacher, cites Superintendent Hopson’s primary drive for grade floors as a desire to avoid “creat[ing] kids who don’t have hope.” I am not without empathy for the toll failing a course may take on a student. But this sentiment focuses on the social-emotional learning aspect of our students’ education only.

Learning a subject builds knowledge. Obtaining an unearned grade only provides a misleading indication of a child’s growth.

This matters because our students depend on us to ensure they will be prepared for opportunities after high school. To do this, our students must possess, at the very least, a foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic. If we mask real academic issues with grade floors year after year, we risk missing a chance to hold everyone — community, parents, the school board, district administration, school leaders, teachers, and students — accountable for rectifying the issue. It also may mean our students will be unable to find employment providing living wages, resulting in the perpetuation of generational poverty.

An accurate grade helps the teacher, parents, and district appropriately respond to the needs of the student. And true compassion lies in how we respond to a student’s F. It should act as an alarm, triggering access to additional work, other intervention from the teacher or school, or the use of a grade recovery program.

Ms. Little also illustrates how important it is to have a shared understanding about what grades should mean. If the fifth-grade boy she refers to who demonstrates mastery of a subject orally but has a problem demonstrating that in a written format, why should he earn a zero (or near-zero) in the class? If we agree that grades should provide an indicator of how well a student knows the subject at hand, I would argue that that fifth-grade boy should earn a passing grade. He knows the work! We don’t need grade floors in that case — we need different ideas about grades themselves.

We should also reconsider the idea that an F is an F. It is not. A zero indicates that the student did not understand any of the work or the student did not do any of the work. A 50 percent could indicate that the student understood the information half the time. That is a distinction with a difference.

Where should we go from here? I have a few ideas, and welcome more:

  1. In the short term, utilize the grade recovery rules that allow a student to use the nine weeks after receiving a failing grade to demonstrate their mastery of a subject — or “personal best” — through monitored and documented additional work.
  2. In the intermediate term, create or allow teachers to create alternative assessments like those used with students with disabilities to accommodate different ways of demonstrating mastery of a subject.
  3. In the long term, in the absence of additional money for the district, redeploy resources in a coordinated and strategic way to help families and teachers support student learning. Invest in the development of a rich, substantive core curriculum and give teachers the training and collaboration time they need.

I, like Ms. Little, do not have all the answers. This is work that requires our collective brilliance and commitment for the sake of our children.

Natalie McKinney is the executive director of Whole Child Strategies, Inc., a Memphis-based nonprofit that provides funding and support for community-driven solutions for addressing attendance and discipline issues that hinder academic success. She previously served as the director of policy for both Shelby County Schools and legacy Memphis City Schools.