Articles in the School Climate category

No laughing matter when stupid pranks elicit exaggerated punishments

Photo courtesy Stockvault

If you’re a kid wanting to pull a school prank, you were born 30 years too late.

That’s my thought after reading about 25 students—ages 11 to 15—who were taken to jail for a food fight at a Chicago-area middle school cafeteria.

Okay, I’m not saying a food fight is no big deal. A principal rightfully must come down hard on kids who disrupt the school in a major way.

But why arrest students? Why criminalize youthful stupidity?

Whatever happened to calling in the parents, in-school suspensions, or handing a kid a mop and bucket and saying, “You made the mess; you clean it up.”

Now, I know times are different. School personnel face a constant struggle to maintain order. Some work in schools where the threat of violence and disorder creates great stress. They have no patience for nonsense, and they feel the need to slap down student misconduct quickly and harshly.

And I accept that in some instances. The student who telephones a bomb threat isn’t going to get a slap on the wrist—and I’ve no problem with that.

I also don’t have much sympathy for the four Florida students who wanted to be showcased on a MTV special about high school pranks. According to the Naples Daily News, they entered school and proceeded to “spray paint walls, upend vending machines, discharge fire extinguishers, dump buckets of paint on school-owned golf carts, and try to paint over surveillance cameras.”

Naomi Dillon|November 12th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Discipline, Governance, School Climate|

Thank veterans today — and think about their children

may2008Today we thank the men and women who serve our country in peacetime and in war.  Veteran’s Day originally was Armistice Day — the official end of World War I and was meant to honor the veterans of that war.

The holiday has since been broadened to include all veterans, including those serving in the current war, now in its sixth year.

The Iraq war has taken a toll on the children of these men and women, and schools around country, espeically those near military bases, have stepped in. Read our May 2008 articles on schools helping children cope with long deployments and the other stresses they face.

Kathleen Vail|November 11th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, NSBA Publications, School Climate, Wellness|

Feeling stressed? So are kids


Photo courtesy of Stockvault

We’re all feeling more financial stress these days—whether it’s loss of a job or other income, mounting bills and floundering home prices, or just seeing other family and friends deal with the economic downturn. It’s no surprise that our stress is rubbing off on our kids–and psychologists and pediatricians are warning that can have significant consequences.

New results from an annual survey by the American Psychological Association—appropriately called “Stress in America“–show that kids “absolutely” feel their parents’ stress, and parents don’t always know that their children are picking up on it.

The APA reports that teenagers and tweens (children ages 8-12) were more likely than parents to say that their stress had increased in the last year.

Forty-five percent of teens ages 13-17 said that they worried more this year, but not all of their parents were aware of that, as only 28 percent of parents reported that their teen’s stress increased, according to the survey.

A quarter, 26 percent, of tweens said they worried more this year, but only 17 percent of parents believed their tween’s stress had increased. And while only 2-5 percent of parents rated their child’s stress as “extreme,” 14 percent of tweens and 28 percent of teens said that they worry a lot or a great deal, the APA reports.

Naomi Dillon|November 4th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, School Climate, Wellness|Tags: , |

Schools, teachers tackle ever growing list of issues before learning can occur

I’ve been told before I am a natural teacher. But I know better than to ever try it for real. Hearing my friend’s frustrations within her son’s school confirms my suspicions.

Jay just started kindergarten but has quickly excelled as a star student, earning a student of the week recognition in the very first week. And he has an excellent teacher, who will keep him challenged. I hope his enthusiasm for learning remains, and knowing his mother she’ll make sure it does. But he’s up against some mighty distractions. Poverty is hard to ignore … and to pinpoint.

Because is poverty what led a five-year old boy to have a complete meltdown at the end of the day, swinging at my friend when she attempted to retrieve the costume she’d let him borrow for the school’s Halloween party? Is poverty what led another kindgartener to declare earlier in the week that she was ugly? Is poverty to blame for an older student not only failing to apologize for literally walking over my friend’s youngest son during the school’s release, but responding to her protest with an obscenity.

But I think the story that bothers me most is of a child I’ll call Bill. He’s five and he already has vacant eyes. Unruly and insolent, he has an utter disregard for adult figures.  He ignores them most of the most time. Throws attitude and acts out the rest of the time. How does a child so young get like that, I wonder? Parents, my friend, surmises. 

The school’s PTA roster is woefully thin. Parent participation on everything, even something as simple as a classroom Halloween party, is absent. When my friend realized the costume she’d brought for the boy in order to participate in the school’s Halloween parade, might have been the only costume he had and not just an oversight on his parent’s part, she felt immediately contrite and offered to let the boy keep it. But it was too late, the teachers advised. His outburst needed to be corrected. 

But really the true correction needs to happen at home. And without it, teachers and schools can only do so much. It’s a shame how often these stories probably play out across the country. And it’s no wonder why teachers become disallusioned so quickly. I think I would be one of them.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|November 2nd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Climate, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Zero tolerance policies shouldn’t replace common sense

Back in July, my colleague Lawrence Hardy wrote a list of “five reforms that failed.” Not surprisingly, “Zero Tolerance” policies were ranked. Larry’s example was a Delaware high school student who got suspended for bringing a pastry knife to school for a Junior Achievement project.

It certainly wasn’t the first time zero tolerance got lambasted, but apparently some schools in Delaware still didn’t get the message.

This week, a 6-year-old boy named Zachary Christie is the poster child for zero tolerance gone amuck. He’s a Cub Scout who loves school so much that he sometimes wears a suit. And on Sept. 29, he was so excited about a new tool his parents gave him—a jackknife-type tool that has a knife, fork and spoon for camping—that he brought it to school to use for lunch.

And that’s where the trouble started. Under the Christina, Del., school district code, knives are banned. Zachary was sentenced to 45 days in a school for juvenile delinquents, and his parents, who are home-schooling him in the interim, created a website and are making the rounds on national news to tell their son’s plight.

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy


Naomi Dillon|October 13th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Climate, School Security|

As youth violence, crime ramps up in Chicago, officials spring into action

stockvault_18636_20090818The gut-wrenching photo in this morning’s New York Times tells only part of the story: a little girl holds a sign saying, “Don’t shoot. I want to grow up.”

The gruesome beating death of a Chicago honors student outside his high school wasn’t an act of gun violence, though. This time, Derrion Albert, 16, was beaten to death by a group of thugs with a railroad tie. His death might have been another statistic in an urban district struggling to deal with violence, except a bystander caught the beating on a cellphone video.

That video—shown on broadcasts internationally—did not help Chicago’s reputation for violence, but it did spur local and federal officials into action. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the former Chicago schools superintendent, and Attorney General Eric Holder will visit Albert’s family today and later will speak about the federal initiatives to curb school violence.

Albert was the third student to die violently in Chicago this year, and he was the 67th since the 2007-08 school year, according to the New York Times.

Hundreds of others have been shot or beaten on their way home from school, arguably the most dangerous time of day.

The new schools chief, Ron Huberman, has a plan, and it’s not just about increasing security. Instead, he’s using $60 million in federal stimulus funds for the next two years to use data to find the students most at risk for becoming victims.

Naomi Dillon|October 7th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Climate, School Security|

Finding the green to go green


A few days ago I was asked to participate on a panel at a conference held by the U.S. Green Building Council, the people who certify schools and other buildings that are built with environmentally friendly principles. And as these things tend to go, I learned as much from the audience as they did from me.

Almost everyone told me they had tried to contact their school board members. What became clear after a few conversations was that school board members are often skeptical, and in this case, many either did not have a construction or renovation project in the works or did not see the need to learn about sustainable designs and practices.

But they should, we agreed: Building green has become a no-brainer for school districts. Green, or sustainable, school designs shouldn’t cost significantly more, and lower operating costs will ultimately save money. And perhaps most compelling is that there is a growing body of research that shows students and staff who spend their days in these school buildings are healthier, miss fewer days of school, and actually learn more.

Not to mention that these buildings have a minimal impact on their environment, and their features can be used as teaching tools.

One person told me about a presentation on green schools he’d given recently at a statewide meeting of school administrators. His show was hijacked, he said, by the school officials who had built green schools for their communities and wanted to convince the skeptics of those benefits.

What many people don’t realize is that you don’t even need to build a new school to take advantage of some of the best green designs. Most older buildings can be retrofitted with features like solar panels, energy-efficient windows that let in more daylight (one of the factors that has been linked with better student performance) and ventilation systems that allow better indoor air quality, a key factor in reducing flare-ups of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Here at ASBJ, we want to help you learn about sustainable designs and how to incorporate those into both new buildings and renovations of existing facilities. Join us tomorrow, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. EDT for a webinar  that will feature Rachel Gutter of the USGBC, who will explain the benefits of green, and John Gayetsky and Kathy Prosser, environmental specialists with the Association of School Business Officials International, who will explain how to use these principles to improve and maintain your facilities. We’ll even tell you how to find new sources of money to do so.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 23rd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, School Buildings, School Climate, Student Achievement|

What role should schools play in bullying prevention?

We held our bullying prevention webinar last week and we had more than a thousand people register (you were there, weren’t you?). That phenomenal response confirms to me that the topic of bullying prevention is on the minds of many educators, administrators, and school board members. 

A decade ago, right after the Columbine shootings, I wrote an article about bullying and what districts were doing to prevent it. I was heartened to discover that the attitude about bullying that I grew up with (it’s natural and adults shouldn’t interfere) was fading.

I revisited the topic in our September issue to see what had changed in the decade after Columbine. A lot, as I found out. The school shooting tragedy has spawned a huge body of research on how bullying affect students and the best ways to do school-based prevention. The people I interviewed said that fewer educators and administrators had to be convinced of the school’s role in prevention.

I mentioned my article to my brother when he visited this summer. He’s in his mid-50s – the age of many administrators and school board members. He asked if schools should be preventing bullying, because it was going to happen anyway. I answered with a resounding yes – school is exactly the place to do this. Schools should be a safe haven for students, and they don’t learn very well when they’re being threatened, shamed, or made fun of.

David Cullen’s excellent book, Columbine, published this year, showed that neither of the two young killers was bullied. It was a myth that took on a life of its own because of our very real need to find a rational explanation for what happened. That doesn’t change the fact that other school shootings had their roots in bullying behavior and that research has shown that bullying brings student achievement down and hurts children long into adulthood.

Read my September article here, where you can also check out my first article. Also, we’re going to post the webinar, in case you missed it.

What do you think? How big of a role should schools play in bullying prevention? Leave a comment and let us know.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 14th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Publications, School Climate, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Back to school — and to worrying

Courtesy of StockVault

Courtesy of StockVault


Finally, here in Virginia, it’s the first day of school. And if it seems like ages that we parents have waited for this moment, well, we have. By law, schools in the Commonwealth must start after Labor Day, and Labor Day fell on Sept. 7 this year, the latest possible day.

 Last week, as my wife and I were busily preparing our daughters for kindergarten and third grade, I read a review in Teachers College Record of  a book claiming that today’s fretful, hyper-vigilant approach to education and child rearing is doing children more harm than good. It’s by Helene Guldberg, and it’s called Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear.

Thanks, Helene: Now I have something else to worry about.


Kathleen Vail|September 8th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, School Climate, Student Achievement|

Free webinar on bullying prevention

Want to know how bullying affects student achievement and your school climate? American School Board Journal editors are teaming up with the American School Counselor Association to bring you a webinar on bullying prevention. It will be held Thursday, Sept. 10.

Listen to experts in the field of school counseling and education on cutting edge methods of preventing this threat to school security, climate, and achievement. Panelists include author Rosalind Wiseman (Queen Bees and Wannabes) and Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network. 

Register for the webinar here

Read our article on the decade of changes in bullying attitudes and prevention here.

Kathleen Vail|August 27th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Publications, School Climate|
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