Wilford Shamlin III
Tribune Staff Writer
A funding crisis for the School District of Philadelphia has made the job of improving school climate more challenging, but not impossible for two organizations overseeing the effort.
“Of course, [funding] cutbacks place stress on all systems and anything they’re trying to do,” said John Bailie, assistant professor and director of continuing education for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP).
“It makes everything more challenging,” Bailie said, adding, “It hasn’t impacted directly what the school district is trying to do with us.”
Last summer, the Philadelphia Foundation’s Fund for Children announced $730,676 in grant funding would be dispersed to IIRP, a graduate school program in Bethlehem, and The Devereux Center for Effective Schools, a nationally recognized research and development organization in King of Prussia. The funds were to support an extensive and sustained effort to improve school climate and safety in 19 Philadelphia public schools with the goals of curbing violent incidents, suspensions and bullying by creating conductive learning environments and a school-wide culture of acceptance and respect.
In restorative practices, the focus is on building relationships with students, school staff and parents, and geared for proactive approach rather than a reactive response, Bailie said.
“The school becomes the center of a ‘restorative zone’ that partners with parents, police, faith communities, social services, juvenile probation and other agencies to foster a restorative environment throughout the neighborhood,” according to an announcement made by the school district in June 2013.
IIRP dubbed the program, “SaferSanerSchool Whole School Change Program.”
Upon initial word of the grant, Philadelphia schools superintendent William Hite Jr. said the new school climate initiatives should make a tangible difference in the educational climate of the schools receiving the services.
Bu in a phone interview on Thursday, Bailie acknowledged layoffs have made fewer school employees available to assist in phasing in new school safety measures. There were issues with scheduling training for a district with more than 20,000 employees.
Yet, the question remains for a school district struggling to maintain quality programs and services saddled under millions of dollars in debt, Bailie said.
“We know the practices work. The question is, how thoroughly can you get the school to actually implement these practices. Given all the stresses, just getting all the professional development done was a success,” Bailie added. “I think this year, people are more strategic, focused on implementing what they already learned.
Positive behavioral interventions have been introduced at 10 schools, including William McKinley Elementary, Penrose Elementary, Henry C. Lea Elementary and Tilden Middle School. The intervention changes the focus from an individual student to implementation of wholesale changes for the entire student body, according to the school district.
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Wilford Shamlin III
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