It shouldn’t be surprising that safety in a school depends more on relationships and achievement than on the poverty and crime of the surrounding neighborhood. A school can be an island of safety, learning, and opportunity. More evidence for this is in a new report that analyzes survey, achievement, and safety data for hundreds of Chicago schools.
“It’s really all about whether students feel like they can trust their teachers, and parents feel teachers are partners in their child’s education. That’s by far the most important factor in school safety.”
Principal Zipporah K. Hightower attributes the change to a school-wide focus on staff getting to know all the students. “We’re watching on a day-to-day basis: If a child’s walking in with an expression on his face like they might have a bad day, we pull that child aside immediately,” Ms. Hightower said. “If a child doesn’t have someone to talk to, they will carry [those problems] into the classroom.”
The quotes are from the Ed Week article on the study and the study can be found at the Consortium on Chicago School Research. The principal quoted above and others are heroes who are changing the lives of their students.
This however is not to say that if a school attains a level of safety, then a violent neighborhood is no longer a social injustice that needs to be addressed. Sometimes a school succeeds in becoming an island of safety, but the surrounding neighborhood continues to be unsafe and enrollment declines because more and more families are leaving. Those that leave tend to be disproportionately higher performing students, they have more family supports, resulting in an increasing concentration of low-performing students in the school and greater challenges than ever. It’s too much to expect schools to do it alone.
Students will also continue to be stressed out from the anxiety of a living in a neighborhood where violence is common. There are many studies that show that many urban students of color suffer stress from neighborhood violence that affects their health, and may directly affect academic performance as well, as in the 2010 study quoted here:
Objective assessments of neighborhood environment and students’ self-reported school and neighborhood safety were both strongly associated with academic performance. Increasing neighborhood violence was associated with statistically significant decreases from 4.2%-8.7% in math and reading achievement; increasing perceived safety was associated with significant increases in achievement from 16%-22%.
Last year, two dedicated principals in Oakland who we have worked with for years responded to increasing violence around their school by walking through the neighborhood, identifying trouble spots, and writing to families, businesses, and the police asking for specific help. Their letter was printed in the Oakland Tribune, and the police and city responded quickly. It provides a full sense of the scope of the challenges they face and how to address them systematically. Here is the complete letter below:
Dear Friend & Supporter,
You have played an important role in making ACORN Woodland/EnCompass Academy/CDC places where East Oakland students thrive. As school leaders, we are writing to you today to let you know that our progress is under-threat. As you may already know, last Friday, 2/5/10, at 2pm in the afternoon, a 16 year old was shot in the leg in front of the Campus at 81st Avenue/Rudsdale. This shooting occurred just 1 hour before dismissal of the 580 PreK-5 students that attend school at our shared campus. While we are grateful that no student from our campuses was hurt, our hearts go out to the family of the teenage victim.
What you may not know is that this shooting is the third that has taken place directly in front of our campus in the past three months. Last month, young men running down Rudsdale were fired upon at 1pm in the afternoon while school was in session. We found bullet casings inside the school grounds. In December, shots were fired during our lunch recess at 12:30pm, spurring a lock down throughout the campus. On January 28, staff cars in our parking lot were vandalized.
This steep escalation in violence at our campus indicates an unacceptable level of risk and vulnerability in our school community. After nearly 2 years with no gun violence during school hours, we have been faced with 3 incidents of gun violence in just 3 months. We know that the latest shooting was an issue between rival gang members. As leaders who are deeply invested in the educational and life success of our students, we are calling on you to act now in support of safe communities.
What you can do NOW to support safety at ACORN Woodland/EnCompass/CDC:
Gang graffiti – There is gang graffiti on the play structure, interior picnic benches and ground near the basketball court.
- Request: OUSD Facilities repainting
Bullet hole in A Bldg window – There is a bullet hole from the December shooting in the reading intervention room in the A Bldg facing the parking lot.
- Request: OUSD Facilities repair
Gang graffiti – There is gang graffiti (BB Border Brothers) on the construction fence on 81st & Rudsdale
- Request: City of Oakland and/or NBC Contractor repainting
Gang graffiti – There has been gang graffiti (BB Border Brothers) on the elevated BART posts on San Leandro Bldv. Between 85th & 89th Avenues for the past 4 weeks.
- Request: BART or City of Oakland repainting
Police presence – We have seen and appreciated 1-3 patrols by Oakland police officers in cars per day on Rudsdale since the shooting.
- Request: Oakland Police Department implement hourly patrols, especially in the morning drop off 8-9am and in the afternoon between 12-6pm, M-F
Drug selling & gang activity in AWE/EnCompass/CDC parking lot (evenings & weekends) – The school parking lot continues to be the site of drug selling (in parked cars) and gang activity during the weekend and evening hours. We have requested gates in the entrances to block vehicles from illegally parking on the weekends. However, OUSD Facilities offered a high perimeter fence that looked too much like a prison.
- Request: OUSD Facilities install gates in entrances to parking lot & video surveillance in the parking lot
1181 79th Avenue Border Brothers Gang Gathering Location – Border Brothers are seen regularly congregating in and in front of this residential location.
- Request: Follow up and investigation by Oakland Police Department
Soap Factory 77th Ave Gang location – there is an abandoned soap factory on 77th Avenue below Rudsdale. This site is covered with gang graffiti (Border Brothers) and is one of several gathering spots for gang members.
- Request: Oakland Police Department investigations unit follow up & City of Oakland repainting
Intractable Drug Selling @ 79th Ave & Rudsdale – For the past 10 years, this corner (2 blocks from our shared campus) has been the site of persistent, intractable drug selling and violent crime, including assault and murder.
- Request: Oakland Police Department implement patrols, investigation and prosecution
Abandoned apartment building @ 79th & Rudsdale – since foreclosure, this apartment building has become the site of drug use, squatting, and prostitution. Currently there are items dumped in front adjacent to the school site.
- Request: City of Oakland hold owner accountable for maintaining property & remove dumped items
Safe Routes to School Walk Audit – There are multiple recommendations to improve traffic and pedestrian safety from AltaVista Planners (signage, painting of curbs) at our shared campus. This is in response to the death of Alana Williams who was killed while walking to school as well as to an EnCompass parent who was hit by a car in front of school this year.
- Request: City of Oakland partner to support and fund these recommendations
Support education efforts for students and parents related to safety (gang prevention, self defense, etc)
- Request: Donate to the Oakland Schools Foundation in the name of ACORN Woodland or EnCompass. Note “safety” on your donation and procedes will go toward parent/student safety education efforts.
Express yourself –
- Request: Write to the students of our schools and tell them how you feel about violence in our community. Write to and call the folks with the power to get the short-term requests completed.
These are our initial requests and we are counting on YOUR support to ensure timely follow through. We are also working together to engage our larger community to find root causes and strategies to the issue of safety in our community and count on your support for these longer-term solutions.
Through our on-going partnership, we have achieved incredible feats at the ACORN Woodland, EnCompass and CDC school community. We, along with the students, families and staff, appreciate your continued support and shared sense of urgency as our community confronts this unprecedented challenge.
Kimi Kean, Principal, ACORN Woodland
Tram Nguyen, Principal, EnCompass Academy
Anna Mansker, Administrator, Child Development Center