I support the new Social Emotional Learning curriculum, expanding behavioral interventions programs to reach more schools, and restorative discipline policies, but I also recognize that policy is meaningless if the schools don’t have staff well-prepared to follow through. I believe that smaller class sizes at the higher grades and more resources (space and supplies) for the staff to use for restorative discipline practices are imperative to the success of any of these policies.
I believe the commitment and flexibility demonstrated by the staff during the last year and moving forward is a vital part of what is working well with Spokane Schools. I will advocate for ample staffing and ensuring that staff have the resources to be successful. The progress made on developing strong Behavior Intervention programs at some of the schools in the district is also commendable, but must continue to expand to meet the needs of all schools in the district.
I believe the loss of staff will have the most significant impact on the quality of Spokane Public Schools because smaller classroom sizes, dedicated librarians, and ample maintenance staffing are vital to a quality educational experience for our students. We must work hard to ensure remaining staff have the resources and support they need to succeed at their jobs without suffering exhaustion.
Moving forward I will advocate for restoring staffing levels by looking for ways to reduce redundant or ineffective spending and working with state legislators to increase funding to the district. It’s also likely that the district will need an additional Levy to be able to restore staffing and programs quickly.
I believe this is going to be very challenging for many parents, but I also understand the Board must balance and prioritize. The SHOP after-school program helps and I would like to see it also be available for elementary students on days the middle and high schools are out early. Ultimately, more staffing and funding would be needed to avoid the Early Release Fridays.
The district had to make many cuts to the staffing due to budget reductions during the last year. Despite that, the district is still facing a budget deficit in the next few years. I think a levy is necessary and I believe voters in our district will support funding for things like increased staffing at the higher grades, librarians, and to accommodate the professional time our teachers need (which results in Early Release days).
The district has been working hard to improve the discipline policy and the equity of how it is applied. They are likely to approve revisions to the discipline policy in upcoming meetings and I appreciate their focus on restorative discipline and behavioral interventions. Unfortunately, the challenge to effective discipline policies is ensuring each school has enough staffing, physical space, and tools to actually apply the policies well. I believe all schools and staff try to administer discipline fairly and appropriately, but are often lacking in the staffing and resources to meet the needs of students.
I have concerns about the use of isolations rooms with our special education students and what effect the recent reductions in staffing might have on the quality of our Special Education services. In addition, many parents find that there is a hole in the resources available for students who are struggling, but may not qualify for Special Ed services. There is a lot of middle ground between zero problems in the classroom and needing Special Ed placement or services. I’d like to make sure that support resources are available for all students and meets them at their level.
The Safe Haven report will be a useful tool in developing better safety measures and practices in the district. I will work to make sure suggested improvements to policies, emergency response plans, and staff training at each school are completed as quickly as possible. This includes working with local police to ensure clear and effective armed response policies are in place for situations when an armed response is appropriate.
There are many areas for improvement to the school infrastructure like exterior door sensors, improving line-of-sight, additional surveillance cameras, and updating signage that will need consideration. Schools with the highest need for infrastructure improvements should be prioritized, and consideration should be taken regarding budget constraints and cost effectiveness.
The report repeatedly highlighted the effectiveness of natural surveillance, regular maintenance of building and equipment, and improved entry procedures. All of these require ample staffing. Improving policies, procedures, and building technologies will help staff keep students safer and better able to respond to emergencies. However, if schools are understaffed, undertrained, or don’t have enough resources, it will interfere with all of the other investments the district makes.
I will advocate for safety review and reporting policies that consider the barriers a school may have when it comes to successfully implementing restorative discipline or safety measures and include strategies for addressing those barriers. When the barriers are driven by lack of resources and staffing, I will fight for schools to have the staffing and resources they need to meet their individual challenges.
The district is already implementing social-emotional learning curriculum. This is an effective way for teachers to connect with students and to reduce suspensions and expulsions. I also believe each school in the district should also have a Behavioral Intervention classroom and implement effective early interventions to support families and students when they are struggling, and before behavior issues escalate. This ensures schools have the capacity to succeed at reducing suspensions/expulsions without risking the safety of other students.
I believe the staff would benefit from regular training and practice in the management of aggressive behavior. Knowledge in how to identify aggressive behavior early and in safe ways to de-escalate will help staff prevent behavior from becoming a risk to the safety of others. Regularly practicing response policy with de-escalation scenarios and self-defense techniques appropriate for different kinds of aggressors would help staff feel more confident responding to students who are struggling and to other potential safety threats.