In Rochester city schools, perceptions of safety, low school attendance and a lack of trust and connection among students, teachers and staff are some of the conditions that have held the problem of low school performance in place. Tens of thousands of local children and families have been harmed as a result over the last several decades.
What we need is systems change. In their June 2018 article “The Water of Systems Change ” John Kania, Mark Kramer and Peter Senge assert that systems change is about shifting the conditions that hold a problem in place.
Thankfully, a shift has begun in the district. In 2016, the school board passed a revised code of conduct that emphasizes restorative practices and other activities that center student and family voices to improve school climate and academic achievement. A school climate report released by the Children’s Agenda Feb. 14 describes the efforts and gains made since then, and it’s a must-read for Rochester residents.
Let me tell you how one school is turning things around with restorative practices. I serve on School 19’s community engagement team now that the school’s poor academic results have placed it in receivership status with the state Board of Education. At first glance, the challenges that this K-8 school faces are daunting: More than 94 percent of the students live at or below the poverty line, and 27.9 percent have disabilities.
But as School 19 enters its third year of integrating restorative practices, it is seeing remarkable gains in reduced behavioral incidents and suspensions:
- 55 recorded incidents have taken place so far this year, compared with 302 last year.
- Short-term suspensions have fallen to 64, compared with 297 last year.
Though these are mid-year numbers, the school is turning itself around and becoming a place where teachers can teach and students can learn. Gains are beginning to occur in third and eighth grade test scores. Academic achievement is now far more likely to follow.
A structural budget gap is looming in the city school district, and how the board of education will resolve it is a serious issue. The gap cannot be filled at the expense of students, families and teachers by cutting efforts to cement restorative practices and culturally responsive programs in schools.
These are cost-effective strategies that are shifting some of the most challenging conditions in our schools, and the investment is beginning to pay off. They represent a continued investment in peaceful schools and in a peaceful society. To end these practices now represents a waste of the enormous resources of time and effort in recent years.
Learn more about restorative practices and how they are supporting city schools at the RocRestorative Conference on April 27.
Kit Miller is director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, a nonprofit that equips people to use nonviolence to create a sustainable and just world for all. With community partners, it focuses on nonviolence education, sustainability and environmental conservation, and the promotion of racial justice.