Thursday, August 28, 2008

Safety and Security in Cleveland Schools

This week I began the nineteenth year of my commute along the Shoreway to Cleveland's near west side.
This is a neighborhood which was considered "tough" twenty years ago by the exurbanites, whose families fled the city during the turbulent sixties and de-seg seventies. A decade later the area was dubbed "interesting" by the hipsters, who were soon followed by developers, greedily buying up the cheap property to build chic new condos for the ever-so-trendy, new urbanism-embracing, young professionals. New theaters, art galleries, and restaurants have been springing up from the Cuyahoga River to West Boulevard. Today the Ohio City/Detroit-Shoreway neighborhoods are no longer on the Realtor's list of bargain basement give-aways.
Do I feel safer? Of course not. This is a city. Safety should never be taken for granted in the city.

Last week a reader posed an interesting question on my post regarding the Cleveland Municipal School District's status falling from Continuous Improvement to Academic Watch.

Journalist Wendy Hoke asked:

"Just wondering how X-ray machines and metal detectors at every entry are going to "make our environment welcoming" to parents and students. Sanders talked about the disconnect between community and schools during his state of the schools address last Friday. Security is important, but if you create a prison-like atmosphere, aren't you reinforcing negative behaviors by establishing a culture in which kids are perceived as potential threats? I'd be very interested to know what you and other CMSD teachers think about this."

I had to think about that one for a quick minute. What is the culture of Max Hayes, and will (or did) metal detectors change this culture?
Max Hayes is such a unique environment, it is hard to compare it to any other high school I've ever been in. The building looks like a factory from the street and smells like one in the hallways. Kids dressed in work boots, goggles, tool belts, and coveralls jostle amongst their colleagues in polo shirts and khakis. Banter is chummy for the most part, and the relatively small student body of 550 students makes it easy for students and staff to get to know one another. The culture at Max Hayes feels an awful lot like family.
The metal detectors and Tenable guards came into the building last winter. During the first week students and faculty complained about the hassle, but eventually the screening became part of the routine for the kids, and the staff were no longer required to go through security. As the Tenable guards got to know the kids, the security checks became less intimidating. The chronically late students couldn't get into school without being chided for tardiness, and friendly chatter soon replaced stern directives.
I have spent some time as a visitor in a prison, and so I will adamently say from personal experience, "No!" The metal detectors in the schools do not create a prison-like atmosphere. The culture of prison is suspicious, unsympathetic, and often harsh...and that's just in the visitation room. The security screening in school is quite different, more akin to an airport.
The more important question is this: Are students and teachers safer with metal detectors in the buildings? I'm not sure. They most certainly will deter a random act of violence by a stranger, (these have happened in the schools) but would they prevent a student from taking out revenge on teachers and classmates?
I asked my classes.
The student's response was a unanimous "No. If somebody wanted to get a gun into the building there are plenty of ways to get around security."
The next phase of Dr Sanders security plan is the one I believe will have a real impact on building safety, especially as it applies to potentially dangerous situations that might develop within the school. The proposed addition of more school psychologists, social workers, and new professional development sessions for school personnel regarding troubled students, would have the greastest effect toward the prevention of tragedies like last October's shooting at Success Tech. Developing a culture of awareness, caring, and kindness is an essential step in the process of identifying problems and getting students the help they need.
At Max Hayes we are doing that pretty well already.
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Wendy A. Hoke said...

Thanks for sharing this, Mary Beth. I think it's important to consider these questions.

I've been in Max Hayes and your description of the look and smell is dead-on.

I'm wondering if a good security team (by that I mean one that gets to know the kids good and bad) such as the group you've described here is a better security strategy than machines....


Sammy said...

I really like what you said about Max Hayes having a more "family" atmosphere. In my opinion, the smaller size of your school helps to establish this type of trusting relationship. Those "mega-schools" that have become so popular over the past decade and a half seem to alienate faculty/staff from their students. The factory-like atmosphere you describe is even more evident in some larger schools because of the tremendous workload placed on the meager number of teachers and staff. The days of neighborhood schools have disappeared in favor of having students (and school employees) travel literally miles to get to their overpopulated classes. The victims of this push towards centralization often must pass by empty and decaying neighborhood school buildings that are closer to their homes - those closed and boarded over schools are the result of diverting the costs of education into the salaries (and bonuses!) of district administrators . It’s not just in Cleveland and larger cities; this is happening all over the United States, even in smaller towns like Greenville, TX, Grand Rapids, MI, and Battle Ground, WA. It shouldn’t be surprising that these mega-schools need to employ metal detectors, armed (yes, armed!) guards, and fenced-in perimeters with limited and strictly monitored access. So when I read about schools such as Max Hayes enjoying the ambiance of a more familial neighborhood school, regardless of the heightened security measures, I can only feel that the dedication and tenacity of faculty and staff are entitled to our gratitude and admiration. I'm sure that the next phase of Dr. Sanders' security plan you mentioned will have tremendous impact. It is critical that we are able to preemptively recognize and address those issues that may trigger a particular student’s “act of revenge”. The cadre of psychologists, counselors, and especially the continuing professional development opportunities will literally save lives! On a more political note, perhaps the next Administration will find a way to be more supportive of actually educating our children, and less interested in training them to be cannon-fodder or “human resources” designed to enhance the bottom line of the select few.

v belts said...

We have opposed policies allowing or encouraging students to have cell phones and pagers in school. On a day-to-day basis, they are disruptive to the educational environment. This also has been the general position of many school districts over the years. Changing policies under the guise of cell phones being a crisis tool for student safety is, in our opinion, a knee-jerk reaction and is not "the answer" to school crisis preparedness that some may believe it to be.

Some schools banned pagers and cell phones starting a decade ago because of their connection to drug and gang activity, as well as due to the disruption to classes. The focus on their disruption of the educational process has come into conflict with cell phones becoming a convenience items over recent years. However, parents have increasingly lobbied boards to change policies primarily based on the argument that phones will make students and schools safer in light of national tragedies.