Active Shooter

Last week, I attended an active shooter training put on by the Madison police department. The training was sponsored by First Unitarian Society, which also houses my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim, and a child care center, so they invited staff and board leaders to this training. It is truly sickening that we now live in a world active shooter events have become almost daily occurrences. The school shooting on January 23rd in Kentucky, killing 2 and wounding 18 was the 11th school shooting of the year.

Meanwhile, our federal government does nothing to put an end to this madness and most states have actually made it easier to carry guns, rather than harder. While Americans who are as sickened as I am with the lock grip that the NRA has on our legislators should continue to exercise their political power to change this dynamic, I chose to take this training because I realized that if I was at an active shooter training, I would have absolutely no idea what to do.

hc-photographs-from-states-attorney-report-on--016

Sandy Hook Elementary School Lobby (Connecticut Dept. of Justice)

It is important to keep in mind, that despite the increasing frequency of active shooter events, the chances of actually being involved in one are about the same as getting struck by lightning. Fortunately, that means that most of us will never have to experience the horror of such an event. However, just like we have all learned some basic lessons of what to avoid when a lightning strike takes place, it also makes sense to learn some basic and potentially life saving responses that we can all take if we are in an active shooter situation.

The training was gut wrenching. We listened to the Columbine High School librarian’s 911 call, which included sounds of gunfire, and sadly, a librarian who was not following the instructions of the dispatcher because she was in such a state of panic. While she survived, 11 students in that library were murdered.

However, the training also made me feel safer because I now feel that I have tools that I can use in such an emergency that I never would have thought of before. While some may seem obvious, most of us in the training did not know these basic principles known as A.D.D. (Avoid, Deny, Defend), before the training. While this is no substitute for going through the 2 1/2 hour training, the basic idea is:

Avoid

  • Always be aware of escape routes, even if it means breaking open a window.
  • Leaving the area is the first priority.
  • Playing dead, hiding and hoping are not successful strategies as they leave you without options if they do not work.

Deny

  • Move into a room and lock the door.
  • Barricade access points.
  • Turn off lights and silence phones.
  • Remain quiet and out of sight.
  • Once barricaded, remain in place until rescued.

Defend

  • If Avoid and Deny have failed, you must defend yourself.
  • Use improvised weapons (e.g., a sharpie or scissors to the attacker’s eyes) and remember there is strength in numbers to overpower the shooter.
  • Consider attacking at the doorway. The change in lighting and obstacles place in the way may be the best window of opportunity to attack the shooter.

At the end of the training, I realized that it was insufficient for our congregation  that only one board member and I had gone through this training. Fortunately, the Madison Police Department offers these trainings for free and they will return to our synagogue and we will invite all our members in March. In setting up the training with Officer Matthew Magolan, I noticed the following quote at the bottom of his e-mail.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”                                                                                                                           -Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship In A Republic” speech delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

That quote made me realize that while I may not be able to save myself or anyone else if I am confronted with an active shooter, I now have tools that will at least allow me to try to save my own life and the life of others. While I have been given no comfort from our feckless government which stands idly by with thoughts and prayers instead of real action to stop these mass shootings, I do take some comfort in knowing that I now believe I will try my best to save myself and others, and even if I fail, I will die knowing that I tried my best.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Advertisements

Engaging in Difficult Conversations

As Chair of J Street’s Madison Chapter, following is my testimony against Wisconsin bill: AB 553.

J Street is the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. For the reasons set forth below, while J Street opposes the global BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, it also opposes legislation like AB 553 that penalizes the BDS movement because such efforts are the wrong way to combat BDS.

coexist

J Street has always been and remains opposed to the Global BDS Movement

J Street advocates for a two-state solution and a secure, Jewish and democratic future for Israel. The Global BDS Movement does not support the two-state solution, recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state or distinguish between opposition to the existence of Israel itself and opposition to the occupation of the territory beyond the Green Line. Further, some of the Movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Movement is not a friend to Israel, nor does its agenda, in our opinion, advance the long-term interests of either the Israeli or Palestinian people.

We do not oppose boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory beyond the Green Line

These kinds of initiatives are different than those advocated and initiated by the Global BDS Movement. Unlike AB 553, it is critical to maintain the distinction between boycott and divestment efforts, which work against the interests of Israel, and initiatives, which are limited to opposing the occupation.

There is a fundamental distinction between the state of Israel and the territory that it controls over the Green Line, and that distinction must be maintained

J Street believes it is vital for the future of Israel that this distinction be maintained, and clarified wherever it is now obscured. AB 553 specifically treats the occupied territories the same as Israel proper, failing to recognize that the occupation violates international law and interferes with prospects for peace and a two state solution. Funds contributed to the settlement movement help perpetuate the occupation and blur the distinction between democratic Israel and the occupied territory beyond the Green Line.

Since 1967, the United States government has clearly insisted that the settlement enterprise in occupied territory is illegitimate and counterproductive to Israel’s interests and the cause of regional peace and stability.

J Street opposes legislative efforts at the state and federal level, such as AB 553, which blur the distinction between Israel and the territory it controls over the Green Line, and thus act to contravene that longstanding policy.

The Global BDS Movement can only be successfully opposed with a genuine commitment to ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution

Opposition to the Global BDS Movement that refuses to countenance any criticism of the occupation or of Israeli policy will never succeed in winning over any Movement supporters, and will only drive more and more frustrated and concerned people into their camp. It is precisely the wrong approach, and it is having a devastatingly counter-productive effect, especially on campus.

For all these reasons, J Street is opposed to legislative attempts to penalize or criminalize BDS activities because they are the wrong way to combat the BDS Movement.

J Street is opposed to federal and state legislation, like AB 553, that would penalize BDS supporters or impose BDS-related litmus tests on individuals and organizations. This type of misguided legislative overreach is the wrong way to fight BDS. In fact, it actually empowers the BDS Movement. This legislation violates constitutional free speech protections, and is fundamentally inconsistent with our democratic principles as Americans and as Jews. J Street urges lawmakers to engage Americans who are sympathetic to BDS in serious and open conversation and debate, rather than seeking to silence them by aggressively penalizing their actions and positions.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

The Kindness of Strangers

Although we live in a world that can feel terrifying more often than we would like, sometimes it is the kindness of strangers that reminds us that on balance, most people are truly kind and helpful. I am in the middle of a two week family trip in Mexico. We spent the first part of the trip with my wife’s family in Nuevo Vallarta. That gathering ended on December 31st. But, we extended our stay in Mexico because my cousin Beatriz is getting married in her home town, Los Mochis, Sinaloa, on January 6th. While we would have flown from Puerto Vallarta to Los Mochis on December 31st, there were no flights available.

This left us with the challenge of finding a place to stay in the Puerto Vallarta area for one night on New Year’s Eve, which turned out to be very challenging. Since it is peak season, like just about everywhere else, the place we stayed with my wife’s family was booked solid. So, I decided to try Airbnb, which also proved challenging, as during peak season, most places required a minimum of more than one night stay. After a lot of searching, I finally found a place, but the hostess cancelled on us due to a family emergency, so I had to renew my search, and by that time the options were few and far between.

I finally found a small place in a village, San José del Valle, a half an hour from Puerto Vallarta. Since it was just for one night, I assumed it would be sufficient for our needs. We took a taxi there, and the village is remote enough that the taxi driver was not confident he could find it, so he called the owner and with her help on the phone while he was driving he was able to find it. Given the small size of the town, I was concerned that we might have a hard time getting a taxi to the airport the next day, so I asked the driver if he would pick us up at noon, and he agreed. He even gave me his phone number just to be sure.

The Airbnb hostess told us that if we needed any help, we should ask the next door neighbor Noe. Given the small size of the town, it was not immediately obvious where we might find a decent dinner. So, after we unpacked, I found Noe hanging out with his friend Hector and I asked them if they had any suggestions for dinner. I relied on my less than fluent Spanish, as they spoke virtually no English. They told me that there were no restaurants within walking distance, but they could take us to a good seafood restaurant when we were ready.

Although my wife and son were somewhat reticent to have strangers take us to an unknown location for dinner, they realized that our other options were pretty much non-existent, so they agreed to go with them. Although I saw a car in Noe’s driveway and assumed they would drive us, it must not have been in working order, as when it was time for dinner, we all started walking to the main road. When a mini-bus pulled over, Noe and Hector told us to get in and then we all travelled 2 more towns down the road until they told us to get off. They paid our fares and then we walked across the street to a seafood restaurant, which turned out to be fantastic. Of course, we bought them dinner and we got to know each other better. After we finished, we noticed that the restaurant had a foosball table and we had a lot of fun in friendly competition.

20171231_191217

We asked Noe and Hector if they knew where we could buy some eggs to cook for breakfast, so when we returned, they told us to get off the minibus at the closest grocery store to the Airbnb. After we bought a few things for breakfast, we all walked back and said good night.

The Mexican music that permeated the atmosphere all night seeped through the walls and lulled us to sleep. The next morning, I discovered that our Airbnb was even more primitive than I thought as there was no hot water, so we just took quick chilly showers and after breakfast, we relaxed and packed our luggage for the trip to the airport. Just to be sure, I called and sent text messages to the driver who had agreed to pick us up at noon. He did not respond, which caused me some concern, but I also didn’t want to give up on him because if he honored his word, and we left before he arrived he would have driven to this small town for nothing.

But, noon came and went, and by 12:10, we determined that we had to look elsewhere, so we tried to get an Uber. Despite numerous attempts, however, no Ubers were available and we now started to fear that we would miss our flight. I knocked on Noe’s door and asked if he had any suggestions. He told me it is difficult to get a taxi in his small town, but he agreed to walk out to the main road to see if he could find one. While I appreciated his effort, it offered me no assurance that he would find a taxi in time.

Since I am a solution minded person who never gives up, I looked around the neighborhood, and noticed a house a few doors down with a car that seemed big enough for my family and our luggage, so I knocked on their door. A woman answered and I once again relied on my Spanish to explain our situation and asked her if there was any chance she could drive us to the airport. I assured her we would pay her. She asked me to wait a minute, after which she told me that her daughter would take us but needed 20 minutes to get ready. As it was now 12:30 and we calculated that we need to leave by 12:45 to get to the airport in time, I pleaded with her to ask her daughter to get ready as fast as she could. She agreed to do so.

We brought our luggage over to their car and loaded it in the back while we waited for her daughter to freshen up after a night of New Year’s Eve festivities. Her mother joined us for the ride, and both of them, Alondra and Laura, were gracious and kind and very happy to help us on our way to make sure we got to our cousin’s wedding. They allowed me to take this lovely picture of them when they dropped us off at the airport.

20180101_131418

What could have been a disaster turned into an experience that restored my family’s faith in humanity. We will never forget Noe, Hector, Laura and Alondra. They are a reminder that most people are generous and kind and will help strangers in need. The challenge, of course, is to turn the kindness of strangers into public policy. The struggle to do that continues.

________________________________________________________

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.

Endurance

When I was a child, I had very little physical endurance. It was extremely difficult for me to swim across the public pool without getting winded and running further than 50 yards posed a huge challenge. Eventually, with a lot of practice, and good swim instruction, I learned how to swim long distances and eventually earned my life saving and water safety instructor certificates.

Running even a moderate distance posed an even bigger challenge for me. Since I was not athletically gifted, it was a big deal to me to try to earn a Presidential 50th percentile patch back in 6th grade which I missed in 5th grade because my time in the 600 yard run was too slow. As it turned out, I was sick on the day my gym class ran the 600 yard race, but my gym teacher allowed me to run it when I returned, along with a girl who had also missed the race due to illness. Since she was not particularly fast, I was really worried that running with her alone would not set a pace fast enough for me to earn my 50th percentile patch, so I asked my very fast friend, Mike, if he would be willing to run ahead of me and pace me. He agreed, and the gym teacher had no problem with Mike setting the pace for us. Sure enough, Mike’s speed and my determination to do my best to keep up with him enabled me to run fast enough to earn my 50th percentile patch. I was overjoyed!

As a young adult, I developed arthritis and started swimming regularly as it was a very good exercise that did not cause problems for my joints. Initially, I just did the breast stroke since my endurance was still not very good, but I learned that if I slowly added in the crawl, first 1 in 10 laps, than 2 in 10, eventually doing predominantly crawl, though continuing a mix of strokes to vary my exercise, I was eventually able to swim a mile without difficulty.

When I reached my late 40s, since I was also an avid bike commuter, many friends suggested that I try a triathlon. My initial response was that I could not run long distance so it was out of the question. But, at some point, that response rang hollow, as I was playing ultimate frisbee with much younger people, and that involves a lot of running. I discovered that there was a triathlon distance known as a “sprint” that was only a 5 km run, which seemed remotely possible, even though I had never run longer than a mile, and had not run a mile since 10th grade gym when I had to do so.

I vividly recall my first 5K training run. I had measured the distance in my neighborhood and had a nice route mapped out. I set out from my  house and within a few hundred feet, I was already huffing and puffing and wondering if I would be able to run the whole distance. Fortunately, another part of my brain responded by reminding myself that it did not matter how fast I ran, and even if I had to walk some of the distance, I should keep on going. Sure enough, I was able to complete that training run and compete in my first triathlon on Father’s Day of that year. After 3 years of competing in sprint triathlons, I pushed myself to an Olympic length triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) which I did for 2 years before deciding that I had accomplished my goal of proving to myself I could run, but since I still did not like running very much, I could give myself a break and just spend more time on my bike which I enjoyed more.

I have been thinking a lot about endurance lately. Initially, my thoughts were personal related to my spending a week with my wife’s family in Puerto Vallarta and enjoying sunrise open water swims of about a half an hour in the ocean each morning. Today, I must have worried a nearby fishing boat who pulled up to me and asked if I was ok. I told them I was fine, although it turned out that the current must have pushed me out further than usual, and my 30 minute swim stretched into 40 minutes.

P1030631

However, there are also systemic reasons for thinking about endurance. Since I do a lot of education advocacy, I have read a lot about one of the big school reform topics known as resilienceThe concept is to support children who have suffered one or more traumas in order that they can be resilient and overcome their trauma in order to succeed.

While there is nothing wrong with appreciating resilience and to the extent possible, teaching children to become resilient, the problem with such an approach is that the ability to be resilient is not inherent in everyone. Expecting that all children (or even adults who suffer trauma) should be expected to become resilient, despite the many traumas they may have suffered, and lack of support they may have at home and in the community is simply unrealistic.

In reflecting on my efforts to increase my own endurance, it dawned upon me that a better education policy would be to train children (and adults) to increase their ability to endure challenges, as over the long haul, resilience presumes that one should be able to overcome trauma and worse yet, may be a failure if one cannot overcome the trauma. Yet, like my experience with long distance running and swimming, though my body is not designed to run or swim quickly, in focusing on improving my endurance, I have been able to steadily increase the distances than I can swim and run.

Since the November 2016 election, many of us who abhor the daily traumas foisted upon our nation and the world by the current administration, need to focus on improving our endurance to stay involved in public policy despite the ongoing nightmares emerging from our nation’s capitol. It is not easy, but nothing that requires endurance is easy. However, through focus, dedication and support of friends, family and community, we can all improve our endurance to emerge from the nightmare that our current President and his minions have created in order to return to a better world where we focus on supporting each other instead of tearing others down.

________________________________________________________

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.

 

Othering & Belonging

Last Sunday, my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim held the 3rd in a series of Adult Education programs featuring members of both our synagogue and the wider Madison Jewish community who led discussions on inclusion of various parts of our community. The first session focused on people with disabilities, the second focused on transgender members of our community, and the most recent session focused on racial and ethnic diversity and was facilitated by Shahanna McKinney-Baldon. Shahana led a very rich discussion based on her experience as a Jewish woman of color.

multiracial

Photo credit: mochajuden.com

Shahana introduced many ideas, including the fact that a majority of Jews are people of color. She also briefly touched on the body of work known as Othering & Belonging which is sponsored by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California-Berkeley. As Shahana did not have time to discuss this in detail, she encouraged us to research it further for ourselves and upon doing so, the work compelled me to share what I learned with my readers.

The Othering & Belonging web site contains many articles as well as information about its conferences. In an article entitled, The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belongingauthors John A. Powell and Stephanie Menedian make a compelling case that:

The problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of “othering.” In a world beset by seemingly intractable and overwhelming challenges, virtually every global, national, and regional conflict is wrapped within or organized around one or more dimension of group-based difference. Othering undergirds territorial disputes, sectarian violence, military conflict, the spread of disease, hunger and food insecurity, and even climate change.

They define “othering” as:

a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities. Dimensions of othering include, but are not limited to, religion, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (class), disability, sexual orientation, and skin tone.

They conclude by identifying:

belonging and inclusion as the only sustainable solution to the problem of othering. As dispiriting as world events may seem, humanity has made tremendous progress toward tolerance, inclusion, and equality. We live in a period of dramatic social change and unprecedented openness in human history. Whether we continue to march toward a more inclusive society while taming our “baser impulses and steadying our fears” depends on us.

Of course saying that we want to move away from “othering” and towards “belonging” and actually doing so are two different things. That is why although my synagogue’s tag line is, “inclusive Jewish community,” and our membership includes Jews of color, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ+ community, and a majority of couples who are from intermarried religious backgrounds, simply putting that on our website and proclaiming it is not enough. That is why we sponsored these diverse inclusive adult education programs and continue to do the hard work required to put our lofty thoughts into action.

As the Othering & Belonging conference web site states:

Belonging means more than just being seen. Belonging means being able to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures. Belonging means the right to contribute and make demands upon society and institutions.

Thus, it is helpful for each of us to examine our actions and determine if we are engaging in othering or truly making our best efforts towards ensuring that those who may be outside looking in are welcomed to fully participate and belong. This requires actively welcoming and listening to people who come from different backgrounds than us. It further demands that we examine our own actions and inactions and challenge those whose actions push difference outside by othering and actively support those who truly welcome full participation in all societal structures in true belonging. None of us do this perfectly, so all of us can improve and change the entrenched systems of othering into naturally welcoming systems of belonging.

________________________________________________________

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.

Defining “Appropriate Education”

Ever since Congress passed the original law requiring public schools to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPEto students with disabilities in 1975, everyone involved in the special education system has struggled with the definition of “appropriate.” This includes teachers, parents, advocates, attorneys and the court system. The problem, of course, is that the word appropriate defies precise definition. On one hand, the law does not require public schools to provide children with disabilities the best possible education, even though parents should always advocate for that. On the other hand, if a child fails to make any progress and merely gets a de minimis education, that is clearly not appropriate and therefore violates the law. The challenge has been in that huge grey area in between. Some have said the the child is not entitled to a Cadillac type of education, but only a Chevrolet. I like to add that the Chevrolet must have 4 wheels and be in sound operating condition.

Fortunately, earlier this year, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court offered updated clarification on this issue and rejected the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals definition of appropriate. The 10th Circuit had ruled that public school merely needed to provide, “merely more than de minimis” education to children with disabilities, but in the case known as Endrew F., the Supreme Court stated that,

a school must offer an IEP [individualized education program] that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.

The Court additionally emphasized the requirement that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

While this case, especially in light of its unanimous nature in an often divided Supreme Court, is very important, earlier this week, something even more important happened when the U.S. Department of Education issued a Q&A on the Endrew F. decision. This Q&A is very important because:

  • Many advocates feared that Secretary DeVos would eviscerate enforcement of the special education law known as the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act);
  • Public reaction was strong and many were troubled with the U.S. Department of Education rescinded 72 pieces of policy guidance in October; and
  • Most important, as set forth below, the Q&A fully supports both the substance and rationale of the Endrew F. decision and thus the U.S. Dept. of Education appears prepared to enforce the IDEA according to this landmark decision.

USDOE

Due to the importance of both the Endrew F. decision and the administration’s interpretation of it, everyone involved in the education of children with disabilities should be aware of the following key points emphasized by the Q&A:

  • Public schools must offer an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” to all students with disabilities, including those performing at grade level and those unable to perform at grade level.
  • “[A] student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all…The IDEA demands more.”
  • Each child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his or her circumstances, and every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.
  • In determining whether an IEP is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress, the IEP Team should consider the child’s previous rate of academic growth, whether the child is on track to achieve or exceed grade-level proficiency, and any behaviors interfering with the child’s progress.
  • The IEP Team, which must include the child’s parents, must give “careful consideration to the child’s present levels of achievement, disability, and potential for growth.”
  • The IEP must include annual goals that aim to improve educational results and functional performance for each child with a disability. This inherently includes a meaningful opportunity for the child to meet challenging objectives.
  • Annual IEP goals for children with the most significant cognitive disabilities should be appropriately ambitious and “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

The Q&A concludes by stating that,

IEP Teams must implement policies, procedures, and practices relating to: (1) identifying present levels of academic achievement and functional performance; (2) the setting of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals; and; (3) how a child’s progress toward meeting annual goals will be measured and reported, so that the Endrew F. standard is met for each individual child with a disability.

In sum, with both a typically divided Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Education which advocates feared would take special education backwards, making strong statements in favor of a meaningful definition of appropriate education, parents and advocates now have important tools to insist that children with disabilities receive the kind of education that will allow them to make meaningful progress every year.

________________________________________________________

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.

Vague Goals Produce Vague Results

Three years ago, I wrote with concern that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Behavior Education Plan (BEP), while laudable in its purpose to reduce suspensions and expulsions and improve in school behavior, would be challenged to make genuine progress without specific goals. While I would be glad to admit that my prediction was wrong, the recently released Quarter 1 Review of the BEP confirms my fears.

school to prison pipeline

To be clear, due to some criticism of the BEP, including my own concern that it had vague goals, and insufficient staff training and support, a new implementation plan was adopted along with the following goals:

1) to promote and increase positive student behavior and social emotional growth, 2) to reduce use of out-of-school suspension and 3) to decrease disproportionate use of out-of-school suspension practices for African American students and students with disabilities.

Yet, these laudable goals are not specific, i.e., how much should positive student behavior and social emotional growth increase, how much should out-of-school suspensions decrease, and how much should disproportionate use of out-of-school suspensions for African American students and students with disabilities decrease? Moreover, if even these vague goals are not achieved, who should be held accountable for the failure to achieve these goals, and in what manner?

Remarkably, three years after the BEP was passed by the school board, without explanation or justification, the report concedes that:

A small number of schools, however, are working on establishing stable response systems, and achieving a basic level of positive student behavior and support for social emotional growth. These schools experienced, in first quarter, a disproportionate increase in level 2-5 behavior due in part to a lack of robust systems to support positive student behavior.

To be sure, there is good news in the report. For example:

  • Compared to first quarter of 2016-2017, the out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students in middle school has decreased significantly from 20:1 to 8:1.
  • The district-wide out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students and students with disabilities in Quarter 1 of this year is the lowest (10:1 for African American students and 6:1 for students with disabilities) it has ever been when comparing data from the past three first quarters of school.

However, these improvements are in stark contrast with the following bad news:

  • an overall increase in behavior events by 18% this year compared to 2016- 2017;
  • Elementary schools account for 61% of all level 2-5 incidents in Quarter 1 this year. Three of those schools had 28% of all elementary level 2-5 incidents;
  • Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year; despite reduced risk ratios, the increase is driven largely by middle school (24% increase) with students of all ethnicities accounting for some portion of the increase;
  • At the high school level, out-of-school suspensions and level 2-5 incidents are slightly up this year compared to last year, and the increase mostly impacts African American students; and
  • Most schools are below the expected baseline of implementation in the intervention category and have strategies “off track” to address the need.

Remarkably, the report’s Next Steps contain absolutely no focus on problem schools, specific goals to achieve or accountability for failure to achieve the many goals that remain out of reach.

What remains unexplained is how the behavior incidents dropped from 17,015 involving 3,841 students in the 2015-16 school year to 14,929 incidents involving 3,344 students, but then rose to exceed the already high 2015-16 numbers to 17,678 incidents involving 4,112 students. Without evidence, the report attributes this over 16% jump to, “more cohesive and comprehensive school implementation of practices foundational to behavior education.” Yet, such a statement is clearly counter-intuitive since the primary goal of the BEP is reduce behavior incidents, a dramatic rise in behavior incidents the 3rd year of implementation simply cannot be the result of better implementation that is counter to the goal.

Regarding the disproportionality goal, the report states that:

Disproportionality, particularly for our African American students, students with disabilities, and male students persists. With a disproportionality increase of 2%, in behavior incidents for African American students supporting schools, particularly addressing the implementation area that focuses on decision making. While we have not yet moved the needle for our African American students, we have experienced a 2% decrease in disproportionality for male students and 7% decrease for students with disabilities.

Since it is well documented that the school to prison pipeline is fueled by out of school suspensions and expulsions, one must wonder why MMSD has failed to reduce out of school suspensions. Yet, the report reveals that:

Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year, an increase (24%) driven largely by middle schools.

Worse than that and perhaps revealing the complete failure of accountability in implementing the BEP, the report honestly concedes that:

this data is not surprising. A key reflection, following the evaluation, was that continuing to do more of the same will not move the needle.

While the report praises the fact that out of school suspension disproportionality for African American students has decreased, such a decrease hardly matters when the overall suspension rate continues to rise.

The report fails to comment on the deeply troubling data that out of school suspension disproportionately for students with disabilities increased significantly. While 15% of MMSD’s students have disabilities, 55% of out of school suspensions involve students with disabilities, up from 50% in the prior 2 years. Sadly, the report fails to mention a single recommendation about how to improve supports for special education staff and students to mitigate this problem.

To its credit, the report is candid about the many ways in which the school district is off track in implementing the BEP. What it does not explain is why such failure is allowed to persist. Towards the end of the report, all schools are listed by where they are in implementing the BEP divided by 3 phases. This shows that elementary schools are making vastly more progress in implementing the BEP with a majority of those schools already at phase 3. But, without explanation, this chart also shows that no middle schools are at phase 3 and only half are at phase 2 of implementation, and even  worse, no high schools are in phase 3 and only 1 (Memorial) is at phase 2.

As I have said since I praised the adoption of the BEP, the plan is a good one, the failures then as now continue to be that it has:

  • vague goals;
  • lack of accountability; and
  • insufficient staff training and support.

Until the MMSD school board addresses these problems, we can expect to see a continuation of mixed results from an otherwise laudable plan, which is a wasted opportunity to improve the lives of our students and keep them out of the school to prison pipeline.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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

 

From Generation to Generation

This past weekend, my wife, son and I traveled to Detroit to celebrate my nephew Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah. Jonah did a marvelous job reading from the Torah and describing the meaning of his Torah portion to the congregation. It also gave our family a welcome opportunity to be together and celebrate Jonah’s coming of age.

Our family was ready for an opportunity to celebrate because less than 2 months ago, my mother suffered a stroke. This unfortunate event happened about 2 years after she fell down her basement stairs shattering her femur and breaking 3 vertebrae in her neck. As I wrote during her recovery, her brave battle to rehabilitate from these devastating injuries reminded me of why she is my hero.

My mother has approached her effort to rehabilitate from her stroke with the same attitude that has allowed her to recover from many setbacks in her life. She knew her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah was not far away, and she was determined to be there and soak up as much pride as a bubbie can absorb.

Sure enough, on Friday night, as family and out of town friends gathered for a Shabbat dinner, my mother leaned over to me and said, “you didn’t think I would make it.” To the contrary, I informed her that I always knew she would make it.

During the past few years, my son has had an increasing interest in understanding where his ancestors came from and enjoys talking to his grandparents to fill in the holes in his knowledge about family history. On Friday afternoon, we had a chance to visit my mother while she relaxed at home and he asked my mother many questions about her family history, going back to her grandparents in Europe. She told him stories that I had not heard, including a trip she and her husband Peter (who has been a true marvel in helping my mother recover) took in 1999 to the small town in Poland where her family emigrated from prior to World War II. My son asked questions and took notes, and despite my mother’s slowed speech due to her stroke, he learned a lot about his family history.

On Saturday night, my sister and brother-in-law hosted a lovely party to celebrate Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah. My mother and her husband came and enjoyed their third event in 24 hours, but after a few hours, they needed to go home and rest. When they did so, much of my family accompanied them as they left and you can see the pride and joy which my son and my mother take in each other’s presence.

20171125_200057

Although my wife and I do not live in the same towns as our parents, we have always strived to raise our son with a deep respect for his ancestors. Now that he is an adult, attending college away from home, we take great pleasure in watching him connect with his grandparents, as he seeks to learn about his family history from them. We hope our parents continue to live for years to come and provide their grandchildren with the knowledge and history that helps them understand where they came from to better understand who they are.

________________________________________________________

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.

Random Acts of Kindness

Every morning, I walk my dog through our neighborhood park. During these walks, I always pick up whatever litter I find to help keep our beautiful park clean and to keep the trash out of the waterways.

20160328_191725

Tenney Park

Since I keep my eyes on the ground for signs of trash while I walk through the park, every once in a while, I am fortunate enough to find some money. Indeed, sometimes I have found as much as $50!

Over the past few months, when I have reported a fortunate discovery of money to my son, who is away at college, he asked me what I was going to do with the money. His question gave me pause because in the past, to be honest, I just put the money in my wallet and considered myself lucky, and really never thought about what I would do with the money. Since I am fortunate enough not to need the money to meet my basic needs, I responded to my son that I would use the money for random acts of kindness.

Of course, responding in that way presented a new challenge to me, namely, to consciously remember that I am committed to using my fortunate findings of money on the ground to engage in random acts of kindness. This has actually raised my consciousness about the privilege I have to be economically secure so that when I encounter those who do not have that security, I can provide some assistance to them. It also means that these random acts of kindness need to supplement rather than supplant my normal charitable giving.

Earlier this week, I was given an opportunity to help someone in need. While relaxing at home with my wife watching a show on TV, I received a call from someone who I have been supporting along with a few other people in a Circle of Support. Our support is generally strategic and not financial (i.e., how to find housing and employment). It was unusual for him to call me at night, particularly because we had a Circle of Support meeting scheduled the following evening. He asked me if I could come to meet him, and I asked him if it was urgent. He said it was, so I agreed to do so.

When I met him, he told me that his few belongings were gone from his apartment and when he asked his roommate what happened, his roommate told him that he had been evicted and the landlord had thrown out all of his belongings. He was wearing slippers as his shoes had been thrown away. I told him I would contact his landlord in the morning because self-help evictions and throwing away a tenant’s possessions are both illegal. However, the most immediate concern was where he would spend the night.

He asked me if I would take him to an inexpensive motel as he did not want to spend the night in a homeless shelter. Although I had some concerns about where he would stay in the future, I decided that my random act of kindness would be to honor his request. Before doing so, I bought him a sub sandwich and a bottle of water. On the way to the motel, he also asked if I could give him some money for a soda. Since I was concerned that a sub sandwich and a soda would not give him sufficient sustenance the following day, I gave him $20 to buy some food the next day. In doing so, I told him that I found the money in the park. He didn’t believe me, but I insisted it was true. He told me he would pay me back and I informed him that he did not need to worry about it, although if he chose to do so once he was back on his feet, that would be fine.

While random acts of kindness may not change fundamental systems of oppression and poverty, they are the necessary acts that help each of us survive and remind us of the qualities that make us human. Perhaps if we all practice random acts of kindness on a regular basis, those who suffer from oppression will receive enough relief from their burdens to persevere another day.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Setting a Progressive Constitutional Convention Agenda

Yesterday, Wisconsin became the 28th state legislature to pass a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides that a Constitutional Convention may take place if 2/3 of the states call for one. That means 6 more states would need to call for a Constitutional Convention in order to take place.

constitution

There has not been a Constitutional Convention since 1787 when the current Constitution was written after it was recognized that he original Articles of Confederation written during the revolution and ratified in 1781, did not provide adequate cohesion for the new nation. Even the new Constitution quickly proved inadequate, requiring Congress to propose the Bill of Rights, which became the first 10 amendments to the Constitution when they were ratified by the states in 1791. Since then 23 additional Constitutional amendments have been proposed, and 17 of them have been ratified. Some of these amendments changed prior aspects of the Constitution (e.g., slavery, election of the Senate, revisions to how the President is elected, ending prohibition of alcohol, Presidential term limits, granting Presidential electors to the District of Columbia, and establishing a succession order to the President). There has not been a Constitutional amendment ratified since 1992, when the 27th Amendment, which delays any Congressional salary raises approved by Congress until the next Congress is elected. That amendment took 202 years to ratify, by far the longest period of time any amendment has taken to ratify.

Most progressives have opposed efforts by states to approve a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention  because the impetus for these resolutions, which have been pushed by the fiscally conservative Koch brothers, is to adopt a balanced federal budget requirement into our Constitution. Most progressives and many economists believe that such a balanced budget would be ruinous for the American economy and that funding for social programs would be eviscerated under such an amendment.

The surprising aspect of progressive opposition is that it is driven by an assumption that fiscal and social conservatives will prevail and get their way. It further presumes that the U.S. Constitution is just fine as it is, when in reality, there are a number Constitutional provisions that progressives can and should push to amend should a Constitutional Convention take place.

Indeed, instead of just playing defense, affirmatively proposing a progressive agenda for a Constitutional Convention could actually rally grassroots support to accomplish the following important goals:

  • Revising the 1st Amendment to clarify that political donations are not protected as free speech. This would go a long way towards elimination of secretive and huge donations to politicians which have turned our elections into a buyer takes all nightmare.
  • Revising the 2nd Amendment to clarify that ownership of guns can be tightly regulated and that weapons that have no legitimate purpose other than to commit mass murder, can be outlawed.
  • Revising the way we elect our President by eliminating the electoral college, thereby assuring voters that a majority of voters will elect our President.
  • Establishing a right to legal counsel in civil cases so that people cannot evicted or have other civil rights removed without representation.
  • Granting statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; and
  • Finally passing the Equal Rights Amendment to assure that women have the same rights as men.

Of course, there may be other progressive ways we can improve our Constitution, but if progressives simply stand pat with their current “just say no” to a Constitutional Convention, we will not even have these discussions to find out what other wonderful ideas to improve a document, originally written when it was legal to own slaves, and women did not have the right to vote, was first ratified.

To be clear, a Constitutional Convention in the 21st century would open our nation to potentially regressive changes to our Constitution, but in this case, a good defense, requires a very strong offense.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.