District Administration - March 2008 - (Page 84)
UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES • Daniel E. Kinnaman Building a Circle of Trust Parents and administrators working together yield the best results. HE IMPORTANCE OF parental involvement in the school experience of children is often shortchanged. So is the involvement of school district administrators in determining what’s best for speciﬁc students and their families in speciﬁc situations. Let’s take parents. By and large, parents love their children and want to advocate for them. Granted, some parents need assistance in doing so, but their intent is right. This is my take after spending more than seven years as the director of “at risk” programs in a challenged urban district (one of Connecticut’s “priority school districts”). I can give you many examples of the challenges faced by school district administrators in advocating for more signiﬁcant parental involvement, but this one should suﬃce. My district took seriously the call to reduce the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol by students. To ensure communitywide engagement I created a committee that included representation from virtually every social service agency in town. This committee met regularly and shared a sincere desire to advocate for the welfare of the young people being raised within our district. Like other priority school districts, if we applied, we were virtually guaranteed funding under the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities grant program. Only with Student’s Permission The application included a mandatory matrix of infractions and the various actions the district should take. Infractions were listed in order or seriousness, with the least serious (i.e., student suspected of possible drug/alcohol use) to those much more serious, such as students being intoxicated in school and students dealing in banned substances. 84 March 2008 T calling for necessary social service or legal interventions. Overzealous Ofﬁcials The social service director I took to task was well intentioned but misguided. We need to trust parents, and we also need to trust district administrators. Not everyone agrees. Regarding the same grant, a state DOE oﬃcial contacted us about another column in the matrix—this time regarding the disciplinary action to take under “Student found with drug paraphernalia.” We put “Up to ﬁveday suspension.” The state oﬃcial said we failed to meet her zero tolerance policy and that this infraction required a ﬁveday suspension, period. I gave her two examples. The ﬁrst is a student found with a single roach clip—a ﬁrst-time oﬀender, sobbing apologies, and with no bad intent. The second is a student caught with a roach clip and, after an investigation, found to be a supplier and dealer who makes no apology for his actions but haughtily says, “You may as well legalize it.” The state DOE oﬃcial insisted that zero tolerance required the same penalty. I said, “Nonsense. We need to trust school oﬃcials to reasonably diﬀerentiate in such situations and make the right decisions on behalf of the students they serve. Otherwise,” I concluded, “those students remain underserved.” I lost that battle, because we needed the money and she was unrelenting. That doesn’t change the bottom line: We need to trust parents and school administrators. Working together, they provide the best guidance for our children in an ever complex and challenging world. DA Daniel E. Kinnaman is publisher of District Administration. District Administration If they found my child drunk at school and didn’t tell me, I’d sue the school district. One of the “action” columns was “Notiﬁcation of Parents.” To my dismay, the committee member assigned to complete this section—one of our town’s social service directors—entered identical data into this ﬁeld for every infraction regardless of its nature: It read “Only with student’s permission.” I thought this was an oversight, but when I brought it up as such at the next committee meeting, the social service director said it was deﬁnitely her intent to say that. Her reason was that some parents might react “violently” to the news that their child had committed such an infraction. I countered that as a school district we had to advocate for a holistic approach through which we trust administrators to work with parents to make the right decisions. I told her that if they found my child drunk at school and didn’t tell me, I’d sue the school district. We need to trust that parents are the chief advocates for their children, and we need to trust school administrators working with a student’s family to be capable of identifying potential problems and
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration - March 2008
District Administration - March 2008
Inside the Law
Crafting Strategic Plans
Social Studies: Is it History?
District Buying Power: Spending on Construction and Renovation
How Well Does This Web Site Work?
Calendar of Events
Understanding the Times
District Administration - March 2008