Madison takes Positive Steps towards Improved Behavior Plan

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) has issued its 2nd draft of its proposed new student discipline policy, which shows great improvement over the first draft.  A feedback session for community members is scheduled for tomorrow (Feb. 27th) for the 2nd draft.

The 2nd draft exhibits a significant improvement over the first draft, including adopting a number of the suggestions I made in my comments on the first draft. These improvements include:

  • The name has changed to the Behavior Education Plan which appropriately reflects the newly stated purpose of:

Creating Safe, Supporting and Thriving Learning Environments…where all students are able and expected to learn.

  • A stated Shift in Practice which:

moves us away from zero-tolerance policies and exclusionary practices toward proactive approaches that focus on building student and staff skills and competencies, which, in turn, lead to greater productivity and success.

  • An explicit recognition of racial and disability disparities in discipline which exist both nationally and within MMSD.
  • Clear stated purposes of the plan.
  • A strong emphasis on Positive Behavior Support and other pro-social interventions with a stated expectation that all school staff establish positive relationships with students.
  • Students are granted the rights to:
  • Attend school and be valued members of the community; and receive instruction to learn school behavior expectations and social and emotional skills.

  • Emphasizing that:

Understanding student behavior as an opportunity for learning is fundamental to a positive and progressive approach to discipline….Every reasonable effort should be made to correct inappropriate student behavior using Intervention Strategies and the least severe Discipline Responses possible….Because inappropriate behavior may be symptomatic of underlying problems that students are experiencing, it is critical that all staff be sensitive to issues that may influence student behavior and respond in a progressive manner that is most supportive of student needs.

  • Acknowledging that:

Foundational to supporting positive behavior in all students is the use of effective, culturally-relevant instruction.

Together, these positive steps, if adopted by the school board, would place Madison along with progressive school districts such as San Francisco, which recently approved a policy favoring alternatives to suspension.

While these are huge steps forward, more room for improvement remains.  Further steps forward should include:

  • The 2nd draft includes separate plans for elementary school students and middle and high school students, but the differences between these plans are so minor that they are likely to cause more confusion than clarity.
  • While 6 good purposes of the Plan are set forth, at least 3 should be added, including:
  1. Teaching appropriate behavior to all students;
  2. Ensuring that no instructional time is lost due to disciplinary practices; and
  3. Eliminating racial and disability disparities in disciplinary practices.
  • While many “rights” are set forth, it remains uncertain what the school district’s response will be if those “rights” are not granted.  For example, the “right” to “attend school” should trump suspension and expulsion.  Furthermore, if the “right” to “receive instruction to learn school behavior expectations and social and emotional skills” is denied, will the school district refrain from punitive disciplinary practices?
  • Adding clear annual school specific and overall district numerical goals with clearly stated accountability for implementing the pro-social interventions, reducing the school to prison pipeline, and eliminating racial and disability disparities in disciplinary practices.

While it is unlikely to be placed within the Plan, in order for MMSD to implement a progressive Behavior Education Plan, it needs to put significant resources into staff and student training.  Advocates will need to encourage the school board to pass an improved version of this plan, but to provide the necessary funding for its successful implementation. It is time to adopt a policy which has zero tolerance for failure to educate all of our children.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Expanding the Compassion Footprint: Zero Tolerance for Failure to Educate

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice’s Annual Faith-Labor Breakfast in Madison.  The keynote speaker, Dalia Mogahed, co-author of, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, spoke eloquently of the world’s need to expand the compassion footprint.  She made a fitting comparison to the world’s need to decrease the carbon footprint in order to slow global warming.  While no individual can have a tremendous impact on global warming, collectively each of us can take small actions every day, from turning off our lights when not in use to riding our bikes instead of driving, in order to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Collectively, all of those actions can make a difference in fighting global warming.

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Similarly, Ms. Mogahed explained, no single individual can bring about world peace, let alone solve the major social issues plaguing our community, such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination.  Yet, each of us can expand our compassion footprint each day by actions both great and small, in a wide variety of ways that are within our reach.  As she explained in this article, Muslim medical students in Los Angeles, expanded their compassion footprint, by establishing the, “University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic (UMMA),  a full service free medical center started by Muslim medical students in South Los Angeles, one of America’s most underserved and impoverished communities.”

Indeed, President Obama has set up a platform to enable every American to expand our compassion footprint through the United We Serve campaign.  Through this web site, anyone can easily find a way to serve their own community and improve it.

While these organized approaches are certainly important, it is also worth remembering that small acts of kindness and compassion, from shoveling an elderly neighbor’s sidewalk, to visiting an ill friend or relative in the hospital, all collectively expand the compassion footprint, and make the world a better place to live.

Since a part of me is naturally cynical, I asked Ms. Mogahed about how to confront the reality that many in our world will choose not to be compassionate and instead may work in ways that make life harder for those who need compassion most.  Just like global warming cannot be stopped merely by each of us taking small actions, but indeed, requires systemic reform of the way we produce power and energy in our world, the social ills of our world, cannot be completely solved by small individual acts of compassion.  This does not render those acts of compassion useless or unnecessary.  Rather, those individual acts of compassion can help build a movement to demand systemic change in the way our society approaches social ills such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination.

Since systems change requires inspiring action, we need leaders who will inspire us to be more compassionate on an individual and collective basis.  One good example currently inspiring action is Rev. Alex Gee, who recently convened a community meeting which I attended along with hundreds of others to work together to end racism and close the achievement gap in Madison.  I look forward to working with Rev. Gee and many others to address our community’s ills and as I urged those in attendance to seize the educational opportunity to reform the Madison School District’s discipline policies to,

End zero tolerance discipline policies fueling the school to prison pipeline and establish zero tolerance for failure to educate.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Response-Ability: Critical to Personal and Organizational Success

The human condition involves making mistakes.  The challenge we have both personally and organizationally is how we deal with those mistakes.  That is where responsibility becomes the key to both personal and organizational growth and strength.

The dictionary definition of responsibility includes:

the quality or state of being responsible: as

:  moral, legal, or mental accountability

:  reliability, trustworthiness

However, when thinking of this important quality in terms of personal and organizational growth, I prefer to break the word into its component parts:

Response Ability=the Ability to Respond

On an individual level, being responsible means having the ability to respond to mistakes one makes by rectifying them when possible and apologizing if it is truly impossible to rectify them.  Few of us do not have the ability to respond, though many of us choose not to respond when we make mistakes or fail in our responsibilities.  Such failures inevitably lead to anger, disappointment and fractured personal relationships.  Most certainly, responsibility cannot mean blaming others for one’s own mistakes and failures, or as depicted here taking the short-sighted approach that problems that you will need to confront are really someone else’s problems.

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In my career as a civil rights attorney, mostly in the non-profit sector, when confronting serious governmental or organizational malfeasance, more often than not the wrongdoers rarely accept responsibility for their own actions, much less so the actions of their subordinates, over whom they theoretically have responsibility.  Examples include:

  • the Appleton principal who refuses to take responsibility for the abuse that one of his teachers inflicted on multiple children with disabilities over a number of years right under his nose.
  • multiple school districts’ failure to take responsibility to comply with the reporting requirements of Wisconsin’s seclusion and restraint law; and
  • the Department of Public Instruction’s failure to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) obligations of private voucher schools.

The list, of course, can go on, but when engaging in systems change, one key aspect of achieving real change is to create responsible organizations and governments which have the ability to respond when mistake are made.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission has an excellent description of organizational responsibility as part of its Policy and Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Family Status, a portion of which is worth quoting here:

There is an obligation to ensure that environments are free from discrimination and harassment. It is not acceptable from a human rights perspective to choose to remain unaware of the potential existence of discrimination or harassment, or to ignore or fail to act to address human rights matters, whether or not a complaint has been made.

This obligation can and should extend to both individuals and organizations, in a wide variety of settings.  The next time you are seeking to find out who is responsible for a problem, ask:

Who is able to respond?

If the answer is nobody, or if you are tossed around the organization in a Kafka-esque manner, then you know that the organization has failed to organize itself in a manner in which it can effectively respond to problems which inevitably occur, and is in need of serious systemic change.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

My Mexican Family: a Legacy of Diaspora Immigration

Like many Jewish Americans, much of my family fled Europe between the two World Wars in order to escape the oppression they faced in Central Europe.  One of my grandmother’s brothers emigrated from Belarus to Moscow.  Many fled to the United States.  However, those that were unable to enter the United States due to restrictive immigration laws, ended up in Mexico (on my mother’s side) and Uruguay and Argentina (on my father’s side).  Those that did not flee Central Europe perished in the Holocaust.

My Mexican family, the Tachnas, eventually settled in Los Mochis and became farmers in the rich agricultural land of the El Fuerte valley.  Seeking to stay connected to their American family, they sent their daughter Nitschi, to live with my mother’s family in Detroit for 2 years in the 1940s to learn English and keep the family connection alive.  A few years later, in the 1950s, my mother’s family made the long difficult drive from Detroit to Mexico City to attend Nitschi’s wedding to Simon.

I first met my Mexican cousins in 1971, when my family travelled to Mexico City to attend Nitschi & Simon’s daughter Susy’s wedding.  The Los Mochis branch of my Mexican family also travelled there and my eyes were opened to my beautiful Mexican family and the legacy of diaspora immigration.  I have many fond memories of that trip, which was by far the biggest trip my family ever took.

A few years later, my cousin Miky came to live with my family in Detroit and attend 9th grade with me to keep that family connection alive and to learn English.  Our house was small, but we crammed three teenage boys into one bedroom who became like brothers during that year.  Ironically, as this recent picture shows, we even look like brothers.

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I made my first trip to Los Mochis on my own in 1981 and have returned to this loving part of my family many times. In 2007, Miky and his wife Alma (of partial Japanese descent) sent their son, Miguel to live with us and attend 8th grade to connect the next generation of our family and so Miguel could learn English.  Miguel is now our second son and like a brother to our own son, Josh.

Miky & Alma’s daughter, and Miguel’s older sister, Alina got married to Mike Eng (of partial Chinese descent) this past Saturday, and my wife Sheryl, son Josh and I made the long trip to Los Mochis, to celebrate.  Joining the celebration were other cousins from Mexico City, Monterrey (Mexico), California and Israel, making this a true diaspora reunion of the Tachna family. Image

As our nation, and indeed much of the world, continues to struggle with immigration laws, my own family’s immigration story is framed by the legacy of restrictive American immigration laws.  Though we have succeeded in working hard to keep our family together despite the great distances, many family members have been lost to the winds of history. My first cousin Robert Tachna, has done significant research in trying to piece the Tachna family genealogy together on a web site.

Where our family’s future will go is up to each member of our family.  I know that I will continue to maintain the close ties that I have worked so hard to forge over the past 43 years of my life.  I look forward to the next opportunity to see my Mexican family, perhaps at the next wedding celebration, as this is yet one more way that I build community through family.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.