My Congressman in Palestine

Cong. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) is a progressive leader whom I have known since before he was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1998. I have had the pleasure of meeting with him many times and he is always eager to learn from whomever he meets.

Recently, his local Chief of Staff reached out to invite me to attend a talk Cong. Pocan was giving in Madison to share what he learned from his trip to Palestinian territories this past June. Fortunately, my calendar was clear and earlier today, I attended his very interesting presentation.

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Cong. Mark Pocan talking about his recent trip to the Palestinian territories.

Cong. Pocan has had a human rights lens to his world view dating back to his visits to Madison sister cities in Colombia and El Salvador when he served on the Dane County Board 25 years ago. As such, although he entered Congress with little knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was eager to learn and see what he could do to promote peace in the region. Although he had traveled to Israel on previous Congressional delegations, he wanted to visit the Palestinian territories and meet with their leaders and citizens. An opportunity arose when the Humpty Dumpty Institute (which seeks to put the pieces back together in broken situations), sponsored a trip for him and a few other progressive colleagues in Congress to see what was really going on in the Palestinian territories. It was the first Congressional delegation to Palestine.

Cong. Pocan met with the US consul to Palestine, had lunch with Israeli Arab members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), met with Palestinian youth and students, as well as leaders including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat. He visited E. Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem and candidly admitted that he is still learning about this complex situation and does not claim to be an expert.

During his talk, Cong. Pocan made it quite clear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are obstacles to peace. He reminded everyone of Netanyahu’s snub of President Obama when he refused to meet with him but created a political commercial for himself when he spoke to Congress. Cong. Pocan refused to attend that talk along with 60 other members of Congress.

Rep. Pocan also reminded the audience of the tremendous blow back that he and other members of Congress took for supporting the Iran nuclear agreement. He singled out Sec. Clinton for her strong effort to sway Congress to support it.

Pocan noted that continued Israeli settlement expansion violates any meaningful effort towards achieving a peaceful 2 state solution. Daily checkpoints along the barrier wall which Israel has erected, manned by young Israeli soldiers makes life difficult for both sides.

When the delegation went to Hebron, they saw the inequity between Israel’s protection of approximately 800 settlers in a Palestinian city of 270,000.  He noted that many settlers are actually American citizens. While the delegation was able to see whatever they wanted in the West Bank, visiting Gaza was another matter altogether.

They were told by both the Israeli and the U.S. government that it was unsafe to go to Gaza. However, that did not deter Cong. Pocan, as he heard the same things when he went to Colombia and El Salvador in the 90s, and in fact, was held captive for 5 days by Colombian rebels during one visit. His delegation had arranged for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to escort them through Gaza. Unfortunately, however, the Israeli government refused to let the delegation enter Gaza. Cong. Pocan hopes to visit Gaza in the future and he said that J Street has agreed to help sponsor another Congressional trip there.

While Cong. Pocan noted the Israeli government’s obstacles to achieving a peaceful resolution, he also noted that Gaza has no effective government and that Palestinian students are dismayed with the Palestinian Authority as it has made no progress in achieving statehood. He mentioned that students at Bir Zeit University recently voted to support Hamas and now support a 1 state solution.

Cong. Pocan will continue to encourage President Obama to set forth the groundwork for peace before he leaves office. He pledges to push the next President to work hard to achieve peace and believes that a multi-national effort is needed. He looks forward to bringing his views to the floor of Congress in September. He believes that real people, not politicians, want peace in both Israel and Palestine and to support those people, he wants the US to support human rights in the region.

In conclusion, Cong. Pocan  made clear that achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the strongest blow back that we can make against ISIS, which uses the Palestinian struggle for statehood as a recruiting tool. As Chair of J Street Madison, I look forward to continuing to work with Cong. Pocan to help his effort to achieve a peaceful 2 state solution.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Weed Harvesting

Though I was an American history major in college, the best class I took was Practical Botany. During that class, I learned the definition of a weed. It is quite simple. Weeds are plants that are in an undesired location. For example, grass growing in your vegetable garden is a weed, even though it is not a weed in your lawn.

Healthy lakes include plant life. In some cases, the plant life is so abundant that it becomes a weed because it interferes with the healthy growth of other species or other desired uses, such as safe boating and swimming.

Goose Lake, where I chair the Watershed District, is a very healthy lake. In fact, it contains designated critical habitats which support a myriad of plant and animal life, as detailed in this report.

Maintaining a healthy balance between sustaining the critical habitat which thrives in Goose Lake, and allowing the lake to be enjoyed by residents and visitors is included within the responsibility of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD). One of our responsibilities is to harvest weeds from the non-critical habitat. A few years ago, we bought a used weed harvester. Since then, we have been able to harvest the weeds as needed instead of depending on the schedule of an unreliable contractor.

However, most people think of weeds as something to pull and get rid of instead of harvest. Given our respect for the environment, we harvest the weeds by transporting those we cut to a nearby organic farmer. The nutrition from the weeds is thereby returned to the earth to grow healthy, organic food.

As you can see, there are a lot of weeds to turn into organic compost. A local homeowner, Fred Mess, has done a marvelous job maintaining our old harvester, including fashioning parts when used parts are no longer available. He volunteers his time to both maintain the harvester and harvest weeds.

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Fred Mess with a full load of weeds, approximately 3500 pounds.

Fred has also trained others to run the harvester as no organization should rely on a single person for a critical task.

Since we also maintain the public beach and boat launch, last weekend while Fred and John were harvesting weeds from the lake, a few of us raked weeds from the beach to make the beach safe and pleasant for swimming.

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Nick Homan raking the beach weeds in order to transport them to an organic farm along with the weeds cut by the harvester.

Harvesting weeds to improve our lake and convert an undesired plant into organic food is a perfect example of environmental systems change. It is also a metaphor for systems change in many other areas of life.

Rather than simply getting rid of things that are undesirable through seclusion and restraint in our schools, or incarceration, the better approach is to use tools such as positive behavioral support and restorative justice as a form of positive harvesting.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Feds Support Positive Behavioral Supports, not Suspensions

On August 1, 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDOE), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) issued an important 16 page guidance letter informing schools that they must do more to provide positive behavioral supports to children with disabilities, instead of suspending them. The letter decries the fact that in the 2013-14 school year, nationwide 10% of all children with disabilities were suspended for 10 days or less, and that rate rises to 19% for children of color with disabilities. The guidance focuses on short term suspensions because the law gives school districts far more flexibility with suspensions of 10 days or less.

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The guidance letter makes clear that,

Research shows that school-wide, small group, and individual behavioral supports that use proactive and preventative approaches, address the underlying cause of behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors are associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and fewer suspensions and dropouts.

Moreover,

Research shows that implementing evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks can help improve overall school climate, school safety, and academic achievement for all children, including children with disabilities.

Since children who are eligible for special education are legally entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), OSERS makes clear that,

when a child with a disability experiences behavioral challenges, including those that result in suspensions or other exclusionary disciplinary measures, appropriate behavioral supports may be necessary to ensure that the child receives FAPE.

Therefore,

In the same way that an IEP Team would consider a child’s language and communication needs, and include appropriate assistive technology devices or services in the child’s IEP to ensure that the child receives a meaningful educational benefit, so too must the IEP Team consider and, when determined necessary for ensuring FAPE, include or revise behavioral supports in the IEP of a child with a disability exhibiting behavior that impedes his or her learning or that of others.

Of course,

IEPs should contain behavioral supports supported by evidence—IDEA specifically requires that both special education and related services and supplementary aids and services be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable. As a matter of best practice, we strongly encourage schools to consider how the implementation of behavioral supports within the IEP could be facilitated through a school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral framework.

In many cases, it is not simply a matter of changing disciplinary practice. As OSERS states,

Appropriate supplementary aids and services could include those behavioral supports necessary to enable a child with a disability to be educated in regular classes or the setting determined to be the child’s appropriate placement. Such behavioral supports might include meetings with a behavioral coach, social skills instruction, counselor, or other approaches. In general, placement teams may not place a child with a disability in special classes, separate schooling, or other restrictive settings outside of the regular educational environment solely due to the child’s behavior when behavioral supports through the provision of supplementary aids and services could be provided for that child that would be effective in addressing his or her behavior in the regular education setting.

Program modifications and support for personnel may also be necessary to assure that children with disabilities are receiving the FAPE to which they are entitled.

School personnel may need training, coaching, and tools to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a particular child.

Fortunately, the federal guidance also includes resources, such for classroom strategies, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Implementation and Self-Assessmentand a School Discipline Guidance Package.

The guidance identifies seven specific ways which may indicate that there has been either a procedural or substantive failure in the development, review or revision of a child’s IEP, including:

  • The IEP Team did not consider the inclusion of positive behavioral interventions and supports in response to behavior that impeded the child’s learning or that of others;
  • School officials failed to schedule an IEP Team meeting to review the IEP to address behavioral concerns after a reasonable parental request;
  • The IEP Team failed to discuss the parent’s concerns about the child’s behavior, and its effects on the child’s learning, during an IEP Team meeting;
  • There are no behavioral supports in the child’s IEP, even when the IEP Team determines they are necessary for the child;
  • The behavioral supports in the IEP are inappropriate for the child (e.g., the frequency, scope or duration of the behavioral supports is insufficient to prevent behaviors that impede the learning of the child or others; or consistent application of the child’s behavioral supports has not accomplished positive changes in behavior, but instead has resulted in behavior that continues to impede, or further impedes, learning for the child or others);
  • The behavioral supports in the child’s IEP are appropriate, but are not being implemented or not being properly implemented (e.g., teachers are not trained in classroom management responses or de-escalation techniques or those techniques are not being consistently implemented); or
  • School personnel have implemented behavioral supports not included in the IEP that are not appropriate for the child.

A child’s IEP may not be reasonably calculated to provide a meaningful educational benefit if:

  • The child is displaying a pattern of behaviors that impede his or her learning or that of others and is not receiving any behavioral supports;
  • The child experiences a series of disciplinary removals from the current placement of 10 days or fewer (which do not constitute a disciplinary change in placement) for separate incidents of misconduct that impede the child’s learning or that of others, and the need for behavioral supports is not considered or addressed by the IEP Team; or
  • The child experiences a lack of expected progress toward the annual goals that is related to his or her disciplinary removals or the lack of behavioral supports, and the child’s IEP is neither reviewed nor revised.

To avoid confusion, the federal guidance also makes clear that disciplinary removals are not limited to formal suspensions. They also include:

  • A pattern of office referrals, extended time excluded from instruction (e.g., time out), or extended restrictions in privileges;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school on “administrative leave” or a “day off” or other method of sending the child home from school;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school with a condition for return, such as a risk assessment or psychological evaluation; or
  • Regularly requiring children to leave the school early and miss instructional time (e.g., via shortened school days).

Inappropriate discipline without behavioral supports can impact the child’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate for the child, as the guidance points out.

Circumstances that may indicate that the child’s placement in the LRE may not be appropriate include, but are not limited to, a scenario in which a continuum of placements that provides behavioral supports is not made available (e.g., behavioral supports not provided in the regular educational setting), and, as a result, the IEP inappropriately calls for the child to be placed in special classes, separate schooling, or another restrictive placement outside the regular educational environment (e.g., home instruction, home tutoring program, or online learning program).

While harsh disciplinarians may not be pleased with the federal guidance, parents of children with disabilities should be thrilled that the federal government has issued detailed guidance which is designed to ensure that children with disabilities stay in school and receive an appropriate education instead of receiving discipline funneling them into the school to prison pipeline. As an attorney who has represented children with disabilities and their parents in school discipline matters for well over 20 years, this guidance is a welcome tool to correct inappropriately harsh discipline meted out by zero-tolerance educators.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

A Fence to Step Over

Wars are fought over borders. Presidential candidates support absurd border fences. Nations erect walls naively thinking they will somehow ensure their safety. These fences pit people against each other and fuel the fans of hatred and bigotry.

However, sometimes fences serve useful purposes. Responsible dog owners have a fenced backyard to allow their dogs to get some exercise in their backyards, while keeping the dogs out of other backyards and safe from street traffic.

Sometimes fences are really just symbolic. These symbolic fences are not designed to separate people. Rather, they simply demarcate different plots of land.

Last weekend, under the auspices of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I Chair, my friend (and former Chair and Treasurer of the GLWD) Onie Karch, who lives on the other side of Goose Lake from me, and I painted a fence at the beach at Goose Lake, which had recently been repaired. As this picture shows, it is a simple, low, white fence, which simply marks the property line between the private homeowner’s front yard, and the public beach.

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Onie and I spent a couple of hours painting the fence. We could easily step over the fence to paint both sides. John, who lives in the house on the other side of the fence, was unable to help us paint the fence due to recent knee surgery, but he gladly offered us water and was pleased to see the fence being maintained.

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Symbolically separating the beach from private property simply allows the public to enjoy the beach without negatively impacting on the private property owner’s land. Maintaining the beach and the fence has brought praise from both visitors and local residents, some of whom have been kind enough to extend praise for the improved beach to the Town of Jackson Chairman. This type of goodwill will likely encourage the Town of Jackson to help the GLWD improve the road leading to the boat launch to reduce unwanted runoff into the lake.

So, instead of building fences that fuel fear and hatred, policy makers should strategically build fences we can step over, allowing us to build community and make friends with our neighbors and the visitors whom we are glad to welcome into our neighborhood.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Ethics in Journalism 101

The media has often been referred to as the 4th branch of government, serving as an outside force as a further check on the other 3 branches (executive, legislative and judicial). While most political reporting focuses on the executive and legislative branches, that reporting can have a powerful and important role in exposing corrupt or abusive practices by the judiciary. However, due to the power of the media to sway public opinion, it is critical that journalists and their editors publish their work according to the highest ethical standards. As one legal scholar put it, failing to do so results in,

incompetent legal reporting, which fuels the American public’s anti- court sentiment and fosters inaccurate views of the actual workings of the judicial system.

Recently, on July 18th, the Isthmus published an investigative piece on judicial overreach, Was judge pushing anti-gay agenda? It was the first media examination of a troubling case where an appointed county judge treated a same-sex couple horribly in a surrogate parenting case. Fortunately, his decision has been overturned, but the cost to the parents was huge both financially and emotionally.

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Much to my surprise, a full week later, on July 25th, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran virtually the same story on its front page with a huge picture, entitled ‘Activist judge’ compares surrogacy to human traffickingWhile I will leave it to journalism experts to determine if the Journal Sentinel’s article plagiarized the Isthmus’ article, one thing is very clear. The Journal Sentinel published its story acting as if it was breaking news and failed to mention in its lengthy article that the Isthmus had published a very similar article a full week earlier.

To be clear, there is no problem with the Journal Sentinel publishing a follow up story on judicial misconduct. But when it pretends that it broke old news first, it loses journalistic credibility and insults the original author of the Isthmus article. In an era of shrinking print journalism circulation, unethical journalistic behavior such as this only serves to reduce the capacity of the media to act as a credible 4th estate serving as a check on government misconduct. I contacted the reporter and editor at the Journal Sentinel yesterday to ask them for their response to  my concern and to date, I have not received a substantive response.

Systems change requires an effective and credible media. Increasingly, the traditional media has shifted to social media, but that has led to a loss of quality investigative journalism. Reporters and their editors who fail to credit original sources further denigrate the reputation of the media. Moreover, they discourage young journalists from entering the profession if they fear that larger media outlets will pretend that they broke news that smaller outlets broke earlier.

I have spent over 30 years developing good relationships with good journalists. When I work with a journalist, especially on a story that I am giving them an exclusive on, I must trust that they will do a good and ethical job. Good journalists know that if they violate that trust, they will lose their sources for important stories. Violation of trust makes systems change far more difficult. Hopefully, the Journal Sentinel will raise its journalistic standards and publish a credit to the Isthmus for its original story.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Forward Again!

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Cullen to learn about his plans for a potential run for Wisconsin Governor in 2018. I have known Tim for over 30 years, first during his initial stint as a State Senator from Janesville, then when he became Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. He took a break from government service and served as a Vice President for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, during which time I teamed up with other public health advocates to negotiate with him to create a public health foundation with over $600 million which the insurer donated when it converted to a for-profit. Our relationship continued when he returned to the State Senate in 2010. Coincidentally, his season tickets to the University of Wisconsin Badger basketball games are right behind mine, so we regularly catch up with each other at the games.

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I have always been impressed with Tim as a thoughtful man, who is a good listener and seeks to understand and then solve problems. So, after I read the news that Tim was thinking about running for Governor in 2018, I asked him if we could meet to discuss his plans and he quickly agreed.

At this early stage, he is simply meeting with a lot of people around the state to determine if he can garner sufficient support and raise the necessary funds to make a credible run for Governor. Thus far, he has received a lot of positive feedback. It helps that prior to considering a run for Governor he wrote a book entitled, Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker, which is part political history, and part memoir, with a significant dose of critique of the politics of divisiveness that Scott Walker has wreaked on the State of Wisconsin since his election in 2010, fomenting the politics of resentment causing the decimation of state government, public schools and Wisconsin’s economy. He has traveled the state on a book tour and learned a lot from average Wisconsinites about how Scott Walker tore apart a state that was once known for being nice. Knowing how important it is to rebuild the ranks of public school teachers decimated by Scott Walker, with a diverse group of new teachers, he donates the profits of his book to the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship, which has already benefited many young high school graduates of color.

Recently, he starred, alongside former State Sen. Dale Schultz in an excellent video, Whatever Happened to Wisconsin Nice? In the video, both former Senators–one Democrat and one Republican, lament the divisiveness that Wisconsin’s political system has degraded into, and talk with regular Wisconsinites about how to heal that rift.

Our conversation started by Tim letting me know that he has already lived far longer than he ever expected. His father died from heart failure at the age of 63, and Tim never expected to live longer than his father. Indeed, Tim had the same heart problem as his father, but fortunately medical technology has improved and after surgery, his heart is fine. Fourteen years ago, he successfully battled cancer, and he has come through that stronger than ever.

From a political standpoint, it was Bernie Sanders’ run for President that convinced Tim that it was possible for him to make a similar run for Governor. Sanders demonstrated that an older candidate with the right message can inspire millions of young people to engage in politics. He also demonstrated that it was possible to raise millions of dollars through small donations, averaging roughly $27.

Tim and I agree that the key to winning the Governor’s race is for him continue to travel around the state and talk to average Wisconsin citizens about the need to move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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Doing so requires rebuilding what Scott Walker and his legislature have decimated for the past 6 years. Tim recognizes that this will not be an easy or quick process. He also understands that it will require a different kind of leader, one who understands consensus driven leadership and governs by forming Blue Ribbon Commissions to learn from Wisconsin’s best and brightest as to how to move Wisconsin Forward Again. Fortunately, one thing that can be done quickly, is to reverse Scott Walker’s costly decision to refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, which is projected to cost Wisconsin $678.6 million through the 2017 fiscal year. Tim promises to reverse that decision on his first day in office, if elected as Wisconsin’s next Governor.

Tim also understands the need to end the gerrymandering that has resulted in Democratic legislators receiving far more votes than Republicans but nevertheless only winning a minority of legislative seats. Tim has been a key player in the lawsuit currently challenging what has been dubbed the worst gerrymandering in the nation.

State Assembly MapFinally, while Tim believes his age should not be an impediment to a successful run for Governor, he also understands that he needs to help raise the profile of a promising group of young progressive women politicians, such as Mandy Wright who is running to regain the Assembly seat she lost due to gerrymandering. He believes a successful run for Governor will include a strong young woman candidate for Lieutenant Governor running with him, ensuring continuity of progressive policies after he is done serving our state.

Of course, the Governor’s race will not start in earnest until after this November’s Presidential election. But Tim Cullen is wise to start early. He is willing to talk to just about anyone to find out how he can help move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Police in Schools need Teen Training

Among the many reasons we have a school to prison pipeline is that many school districts  place police officers in schools. While best practice is to limit police involvement in schools to genuine emergencies, leaving general school behavior management to the educators in the school, many school districts believe that safety requires stationing police officers in their schools. School based police officers are often given euphemistic names like, police liaison officers or school resources officers. In Madison, they are dubbed educational resource officers (ERO), though they are not educators.

Although it did not take place in school, a recent interaction between Madison police and black youth at a large public event, demonstrated the lack of training of the police officers at the scene, as to how to de-escalate teens who were fighting. Without such training, police used pepper spray in a crowded public area causing innocent bystanders to suffer the painful effects of the pepper spray. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval conceded that,

conditions were less than ideal for using pepper spray. A brewing storm was kicking up wind that may have led to “collateral exposures.” But he defended his officers’ actions, saying that those involved in the alleged fight “could have been roundhoused to the point where they might have had fractures or lose consciousness.”

In a case in which I represented a middle school boy against the Sun Prairie police because the officer slammed my client’s head to the ground when he would not give the officer his cell phone (the boy has disabilities and was granted permission to use his phone by the school), when I took the officer’s deposition, it was clear that he had no training in dealing with teenagers, nor children with disabilities. The case settled just before the trial was scheduled to take place.

Fortunately, there are resources available to provide training to police when they interact with teens, whether in school or in public. Put simply, when policing the teen brain, there are better ways to communicate because teen brains are different.

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From Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 9, 2016. Click here for larger image.

Strategies for Youth provides training for police on how to successfully interact with teens. Police have used this training successfully in Virginia Beach, although nationally, only about 1% of police training includes strategies for dealing with teens. The training program helps police and youth by:

  • Making interactions with youth easier and faster, less conflicted and more compliant;
  • Asserting authority effectively with youth with reduced reliance on force and arrest;
  • Recognizing and responding appropriately to youth presenting mental health and addiction issues;
  • Investing in youth and increasing youths’ trust and communication with police;
  • Reducing departments’ overtime and court costs by partnering with youth serving, community-based organizations for low-level offenses; and
  • Supporting good community relations and reduce complaints.

The Madison Police Department and the Madison Metropolitan School District are currently examining the role of police in Madison schools. Any agreement to continue to the placement of educational resource officers in all of Madison’s high schools should include mandatory training for these officers on successful interactions with teens in order to reduce the school to prison pipeline and keep everyone in school safe.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Building Community with Grains of Sand

This past weekend, as our nation celebrated its independence from colonial rule, the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I chair, brought our small community together at a beach picnic. Neighbors enjoyed each other’s company and new acquaintances were made. Towards the middle of the afternoon, I took the opportunity to inform Goose Lake residents about how much a small group of volunteers has accomplished under the auspices of the GLWD.

In just a few short years, our 5 member elected volunteer commission has made the most out of our small budget (roughly $18,000 in tax revenues annually).

  • A few years ago, we bought a used weed harvester, which a volunteer maintains and harvests lake weeds and provides them for organic farming;
  • We have vastly reduced invasive weeds through effective non-toxic bio-management and hand harvesting;
  • Last fall, we started a 3 year fish stocking program with an initial stocking of over 3,000 fish;
  • We removed a hazardous bridge and boardwalk; and
  • This spring we brought in new sand to our small beach and made initial improvements to the boat launch.

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In the near future, we hope to establish a web site and in 2017, in cooperation with Adams County and the Town of Jackson, we hope to vastly improve the roadway leading to the boat launch to reduce runoff into the lake.

American skepticism about government is very high. In late 2015, survey data showed that:

only 19 percent said they can trust the government always or most of the time, and 74 percent said most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s.

However, I have long believed that when money and partisan politics are removed from government, as is the case with the GLWD, and citizens see that government is effectively leveraging their tax revenues for the common good, then citizens will support government not only through their taxes, but through volunteerism.

None of the projects I mentioned above, including the picnic itself, would have happened without the effective participation of citizen volunteers working with our small government unit. While I understand that problems of scale increase as the size of the government and the magnitude of its problems increase, nevertheless, I firmly believe that reducing money and partisanship in politics combined with clear demonstration of effective work performed by government officials, will increase the support for the necessary work that we all need government to perform. Simply put, most people will pay for things that produce value they can see, including government.

Perhaps the most important function government can perform is building community by supporting the shared interests of its local citizens. This past weekend, as the children playing on the Goose Lake beach and in the water clearly demonstrated, we demonstrated that we can build community with grains of sand.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Special Needs Voucher Scam Fully Revealed

Although disability advocates put up a good fight and prevented private school voucher advocates from passing a special needs voucher bill a few years ago, ultimately, the well financed influential voucher lobbyists prevailed and Wisconsin will send taxpayer dollars to uncertified private schools who claim an ability to serve children with disabilities, while stripping parents and their children who take these vouchers of all their rights.

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) revealed the list of 28 private schools that have agreed to take special needs vouchers in the 2016-17 school year. A thorough review of the descriptions of these schools reveals that this program is a genuine scam siphoning taxpayer dollars while promising little to children with disabilities.

Among the most troubling aspects revealed by this list include:

  • 25 of 28 are private religious schools, all of which are rooted in Christianity;
  • 22 of 28 are in the Milwaukee Metropolitan area so most of the state will have no access to this program;
  • Only 1 of 28 claims to be wheelchair accessible, while 8 others admit that they are not accessible in  clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the remaining 19 are silent on the issue, suggesting that they are not ADA accessible;
  • The Bethel Evangelical Lutheran School concedes that: “Special Education Program limits include limited maximum hours/time designated to any one student (60- 90 minutes daily) as a result of multiple students needing services.” This school concedes that it has no staff with special education licensure.
  • When identifying, “Methods of instruction that will be used by the school to provide special education and related services to SNSP students,” Concordia Lutheran School states that it,”exists for the purpose of “Bringing Christ and excellence in academics to our children for life and forever”. The aim of this ministry is to assist parents:
    1. In helping their children grow in the love and knowledge of Christ, their Savior;
    2. In giving their children a Christian education and training according to the Word of God, for daily living in service to God and their neighbor.”

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  • Similarly, “Immanuel Lutheran School exists to share the love of Christ.” It has no special education certified staff.
  • Lutheran Special School & Education Services, “provides Christ centered programs and services.” The school concedes that it, “does not provide speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy.”
  • The Divine Redeemer Lutheran School identifies no special education services that it will provide. Instead it lists: 1) Speech and language services are provided on campus through the local public school district; 2) A variety of math classes are offered in the middle school to match students with their skill level; and 3) the Accelerated Reader program is in wide use in our school.
  • The Granville, Pilgrim, Renaissance, Saint Martini, Sherman Park and the Northwest Lutheran Schools (all part of LUMIN schools) only identify that they will help children with Specific Learning Disabilities and speech and language issues and concede that they are not wheelchair accessible.
  • Heritage Christian Schools states that it will serve students with “mild learning disabilities or needs” even though students with “mild” needs do not generally qualify for special education.
  • Pius XI Catholic High School provides a college prep program only for students with Specific Learning Disabilities or “similar educational disabilities.”
  • The St. Coletta Day School, “is best suited for students who are…capable of academic achievement and possess sufficient self-care skills to be independent.”
  • St. Paul Lutheran School does NOT offer, ‘handicap accessible rooms/building or full-time one-to-one instructors or educational aides.’
  • Only 1 school (Saint Marcus Lutheran) states that it serves children with autism, cognitive disabilities, emotional behavior disabilities and other severe disabilities.

Since the program does not start providing education to children until the coming school year, it is too soon to tell how the students with disabilities whose parents obtain taxpayer funded vouchers for them to attend these will fare. Of course, everyone hopes that they do well, but based on the description of their programs, most of these so-called special needs voucher schools are clearly ill-equipped to provide an appropriate education to the vast majority of Wisconsin students with disabilities, revealing that this program is simply a bad idea.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

 

21st Century Wild, Wild West

As the U.S. continues to struggle over gun violence, it appears that America’s love affair with the wild, wild west, where vigilantism and gun violence were rampant and romanticized has simply modernized and nationalized. We have regressed from using rifles and six-shooters in barely settled western towns to living in a nation where anyone can be killed or maimed at any time by assault weapons legally obtained by people on terror watch lists or toddlers pulling mommy’s handgun out of her purse and shooting her to death.

Hickock_Tutt_Duel_1867_Harpers_Monthly_Magazine

Hickok-Tutt duel February 1867-Harper’s Monthly

The real question, of course, is why 21st century American gun policy appears stuck in the 19th century. The latest polling data shows that a majority of Americans want more gun control:

  • 55% favor stricter gun controls;
  • 92% favor universal background checks that will forbid gun sales to those convicted of felonies;
  • 54% favor a ban on the manufacture, sale and possessions of semi-automatic assault weapons;
  • 54% favor a ban on the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition clips;
  • 87% favor banning convicted felons from possessing guns; and
  • 85% favor preventing people on the U.S. terrorism or no-fly list from owning guns.

Yet, despite mass shooting after mass shooting from Sandy Hook to Orlando and countless tragic places in between, our dysfunctional Congress refuses to pass any meaningful gun control legislation. Worse yet, there are legislators who continue to propose legislation that would make gun possession more likely.

Contrary to any reasonable pro-business, local control ideology, a Wisconsin Republican state representative Bob Gannon is responding to the Orlando massacre by proposing legislation that would hold business owners liable for triple damages if they ban weapons in their business, but someone is shot there. Hopefully, this piece of retrograde legislation will be soundly rejected. However, the sad reality is that the United States will never change its gun laws until voters make gun control a deciding factor when they cast their votes.

The late, great disability advocate Justin Dart was well known for his saying, “Vote as if your life depends upon it, because it does.” In the case of reasonable gun control legislation, he was exactly right. In November, and in every election in the future, American voters can and should choose to vote as if their lives depended on it, and vote for candidates that support the majority view that we can and should have reasonable gun control across our nation. Every such vote has the potential of saving lives, including your own.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.