ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Columbine shootings came on the heels of
school killings last year in Springfield, Oregon, and Jonesboro, Arkansas,
among others. In Springfield, a 15-year-old killed two students and
wounded 19; and in Jonesboro, a 13- and an 11-year-old shot four classmates
and a teacher. Now, we take a wider look at school safety around the
country. Joining us are four public school superintendents from across
the country: David Hornbeck from Philadelphia, Rod Paige from Houston,
Kate Stetzner from Butte, Montana, and Daniel Domenech from Fairfax
County, in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C.
Rod Paige, what are you doing in Houston to improve school safety?
ROD PAIGE: First of all, we adopt an attitude that safety is important;
a core value of an independent school district court is safety above
all else. It didn't just begin the last couple of months, or last couple
of years. It might be an attitude that goes throughout the entire structure
of the organization. These add-on programs with increased security and
things like that now are important, but there must be some structural
part of the system that speaks to safety.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What kind of add-on programs have you done, though,
in the past year or so?
ROD PAIGE: Well, we obviously have done some of that. We've increased
the number of police officers, we've increased their routine, we've
added some metal detectors and those types of things. But they will
only be effective if they are a part of an overall program that involves
in instructional program and other aspects of the district operations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Kate Stetzner, what changes have you made in Butte?
KATE STETZNER: What we've done since we've experienced a school shooting
ourselves in 1994 with a ten-year-old bringing a gun to school as we
have a district-wide plan and a district-wide plan makes it mandatory
every school have school safety at the top of their goals for the year.
We have SRO officers, and this year for the first time every classroom
teacher will have a packet in the classroom that is designed for every
kind of crisis situation that could possibly happen and what they need
to do a how they need to proceed. We also are very much into mentorship
programs and community SRO officers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What are SRO officers?
KATE STETZNER: School resource officers, police officers on duties,
not just at the high school or middle school level, but at all schools.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Go ahead.
KATE STETZNER: And finally, we're looking at mentorship programs. We
truly know that kids do well if they can trust a caring adult. And so
we' looking at connecting many of our people into our community of schools
in all of our schools throughout our district.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David Hornbeck, what changes have you made in
DAVID HORNBECK: Three different kinds. One are the short-term measures,
the walk-through metal detectors, the increase in school police, places
that we can send kids that have been disruptive, both on a short-term
basis, long term; a whole host of things like that, and they've actually
resulted in 51 percent decrease in robberies and a 36 percent decrease
in firearms violations over the last three years. But the issue of culture
is an important one, too. And so we've divided our 259 schools into
schools within schools, small learning communities, two to four hundred
kids in each one so that parents and kids and teachers can really come
to know each other and in important new ways. We created lots more after-school
activities. But the third thing that I would say is that if we improve
the academic success of kids, who have not known success, I think that's
going to make a huge impact on the kind of disruptive behavior, the
responses in terms of violence and hurting other kids. We have very
little problem with youngsters in the Philadelphia School District who
are enjoying success in reading and math and science and are being promoted
and graduating on time. So it's short term, it's long term, and it's
changing that place where adults and kids relate, trying to reduce the
anonymity, eliminate the isolation kids feel, listen to them; hear their
own grief, hear their own loss that they find in routine ways.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Daniel Domenech, what about in Fairfax County,
DANIEL DOMENECH: We're trying to learn from Columbine and some of these
other incidents and focus on children that tend to fall through the
cracks, children that tend to become isolated. And here is where mentor
programs we think are very critical. And this coming September we have
program called Mentor Works, whose target is to me sure that all 150,000
children in the Fairfax school system have a responsible adult that's
watching and caring for them. And we think that that is very important.
Beyond that, we have a comprehensive array of preventive measures. We
also have school resource officers in all of our high schools and middle
schools. We have a manual that all our staff will see this September
where they come in with a step-by-step procedure as to what to do whatever
the incident happens to be. So, in general, summarizing what we have
heard already, we tend to have all of those programs. But what we're
trying to do, as we heard the superintendent at Columbine say before,
is to maintain an atmosphere in our schools that is conducive to learning
where the kids feel safe and secure, the parents and staff.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Your schools are probably not unlike the Columbine
DANIEL DOMENECH: Very similar, correct.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you have not put in new metal detectors, you
haven't closed doors, you are not using see-through backpacks, which
some schools I know are using. You are not doing any of that. Why?
DANIEL DOMENECH: We are not doing any of that. We have not put any cameras,
metal detectors, anything. We're focusing at this point in the preventive
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why? Why didn't you do any of that?
DANIEL DOMENECH: Because unlike Columbine, which has to react in terms
of making sure that everybody feels safe, we haven't had that type of
an incident here, and we're doing everything we can to make sure that
it doesn't happen. But, as long as it doesn't, we want to maintain that
freedom that I think is important for the children and the parents to
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rod Paige, what about that in Houston? How do
you decide how much security is just too much, that you're going to
really clamp down too much on an open educational atmosphere that you
ROD PAIGE: Well, it's a difficult decision to make. But we can take
the attitude that it can happen here. So we've got to make sure we're
on guard every minute. The key thing, we think, is having a system that
pays attention to children. The students feel that people care about
them and pay attention to them and all of these other things that we
can add around the periphery will be good. But structurally the program
and system must be operating in such a way that students feel that there's
a quality adult relationship in their lives.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Have you had to do some of these more extreme
measures, like use clear backpacks, demand that people use clear backpacks?
And do you have quite a lot of metal detectors in your schools?
ROD PAIGE: Absolutely. We have some of that. And it's a school-by -school
decision. We have a lot of site-based decision-making here in Houston.
And some schools choose to do that, and others choose not to do that.
But we have some fundamental parts that every school must take part
in. We have a very highly effective police operation. It is an operation
of qualified Texas peace officers. That's an HISD police force. So we
do some of all of it. One of the things too we think is more effective
than anything else is we are very aggressive about moving disruptive
students into a environment that can help them better.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Kate Stetzner, how would you answer the question
that the school board member posed in the piece before this discussion?
He said are these new security measure a knee-jerk reaction because
the public's clamoring for it, or are we really doing this because it's
reasonable or necessary for the protection of young people in the schools?
KATE STETZNER: Well, I'd answer by telling you that we have 16,000 school
districts in this country, and they are very, very safe. We have less
than 1 percent of homicide episodes taking place today. I would answer
by pleading with the media to help us and to become part of this whole
orchestration of looking at trusting feelings for one another. I would
say that what we need to do is say please bear with us and don't show
all of the fear factors that would be there for children to look at
frightening things that could happen in schools, but go towards what
we can do to make sure that we have caring and trusting and responsible
adults that work with children, and that we look at red flags and early
warning signs that would help children as opposed to putting devices
in school systems. So we make sure that we have a values system that's
clear with how adults value children.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So just briefly, Ms. Stetzner, would you say given
the fact schools are mostly pretty safe, there could be a big overreaction
KATE STETZNER: Well, I don't think it's an overreaction. Anytime something
has happened in the magnitude that happened there, we never can overreact.
But what we need to do is be very gentle with the way that we deal with
what's happening and make sure that we don't turn our schools into prisons
and make sure we ask all of these services that work with children,
from law enforcement to mental health services to medical professions,
to come in and join us and invite them into our schools to work with
us, to help resolve the problems together as opposed to leaving us out
there as an island.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Domenech, what kind of resources are you putting
in to teaching kids or helping kids treat each other better, the whole
question of the jock culture what was discussed in the piece?
DANIEL DOMENECH: We have a very successful peer mediation program, as
well as a number of violence courses in our schools, and some of our
schools have been recognized as models -- Annandale High School, for
example, right here has been visited by the President several times
in terms of their diversity in mediation programs. And that, we feel,
is critical and important, because we're also talking about changing
the behavior of our students in terms of the kinds of activities that
they resort to.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But have you put more resources into that?
DANIEL DOMENECH: Yes, we have. One of the things that made our guidance
counselors very happy is that in this year's budget we put additional
monies in there to free up the guidance counselors from their clerical
duties, so that they have more time to spend with the students in terms
of guidance and counseling activities.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rod Paige, what about in Houston, have you also
put more resources into programs that would help kids get along better?
ROD PAIGE: Absolutely. We have a highly effective character education
program. We have peer mediation programs and our counselors are trained
in this aspect of schooling. It's a comprehensive program.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And David Hornbeck, in Philadelphia?
DAVID HORNBECK: Peer mediation, conflict resolution, and one of the
things that we've begun to put a lot of effort into that I think will
pay off in this way is a lot of emphasis on student service learning,
community service, 15,000 kids in it this year, next year it becomes
a promotion and graduation requirement in elementary school, in middle
school, and in high school. And we think that's going to help change
the relationship between kids and kids, and frankly, between kids and
community as well, because people out in the community will begin to
see the youngsters differently and I think create a different atmosphere
for them to live in.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all four very much.