Before moving to Rochester in 2006, I lived in the Washington, DC area, where for many years I worked for organizations representing the local leaders and the teachers and other personnel who govern and work in public school districts across the country. And, for several years, I worked for the American Psychological Association, which is where my school mental health career began. After the shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999, Congress and President Clinton appropriated funding for violence prevention by providing school mental health programming and initiatives that involved unprecedented collaboration among the US Departments of Education, Health & Human Services and Justice. In November, 1999, I became the Mental Wellness Program Coordinator for the National Education Association’s non-profit affiliated organization, the NEA Health Information Network. From my work at APA and NEA, I gained valuable knowledge and insights from collaborations among amazing education, health and mental health researchers as well as policy experts nationwide. My colleagues and I have worked to advance research and implement evidenced-based practices, many of which we hoped would be sustainable.
Then, 9/11 happened. As the designated “expert” on violence-related stress at the National Education Association, I knew there would be a significant need yet not much in the way of resources to respond. In 2001, 1 in 105 Americans was a member of NEA. And, the Federal government had only recently funded the Center for the Study of Post-Traumatic Stress. Back then, there was still much we did not know about how to successfully treat PTSD. I spent the next few days combing through the professional literature about resilience. From that research and with the help of a wonderful team, we produced a pamphlet that presented five (5) practical strategies for promoting resilience during times of trauma and loss. Weeks later, Pentagon officials selected that pamphlet as the platform to use with its civilian personnel and to be included among materials for the US Army and National Guard. Together, we made that happen with a relatively small amount of funding that SAMHSA had provided and with additional resources that NEA and NEA HIN provided. That probably was one of the most efficient uses of resources I’ve ever seen or been part of making happen. SAMHSA then awarded NEA additional funding to create versions for children and youth. So, we created an activity booklet for students in grades K-5 that corresponded with students’ language arts and math curricula under No Child Left Behind and a poster series for children in grades 6-12. At the same time, we progressed with producing what was already in the works prior to the 9/11 terror attacks — a multimedia training package for school leaders and staff about how to prevent violence, dropping out and substance abuse by promoting resilience among students and staff in schools and the communities they served.
In the years after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, we faced several high-profile and lower-profile situations for which we used the resiliency pamphlet and corresponding activity booklet and poster series, as well as the multimedia training package. For example, during the DC sniper situation, leaders in our local public school districts and the staff who reported to them were the people who provided the necessary leadership and hands-on support for the communities that were directly affected. School administrators, teachers and other school staff made day to day, minute by minute decisions about how life would go on safely, despite the safety risk, and how to respond to the trauma. That was a beautiful example of how communities’ connections to schools function as strategically significant protect factors that contribute to making people in those communities and their local economies be more resilient despite the disruptive impact of violence, trauma and loss.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan changed Federal spending priorities. As a result, NEA HIN’s Mental Wellness Program ended. Since then, however, I continued to do consulting on an as needed basis, training UniServ staff (district-level union representatives) how to recognize, understand and respond to teachers and other school staff whose work performance may have been impacted by stress, depression, anxiety and other health and behavioral health challenges. I also continued to provide information for NEA members via NEA HIN’s web site. Earlier this year, I provided information for NEA members – teachers and other school personnel – about resilience and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (http://www.neahin.org/health-safety/mental/trauma-and-resilience.html).
Recently, a former Rochester City School District commissioner asked me what led me to Rochester. When I decided to leave the DC area, how did I end up choosing Rochester? The answer is I did my homework. I learned that Rochester was and still is, per capita, the most violent city in New York State. I had just finished almost 10 years doing school mental health and violence prevention work. I also knew that Rochester had an amazing housing market. Last year, Forbes magazine identified Rochester as having one of the best housing markets in the country. I also chose New York State and Monroe County based on the per capita expenditures for public education and health care. I knew before I moved to Rochester that a budget correction was inevitable at some point — that level of spending was not sustainable. Having worked as the executive assistant to the Chief Financial Officer at the National School Boards Association for many years and having managed program and project budgets, I understood the challenges. Based on what I saw, I thought, somehow, I could be of service.
Let’s stop and take a moment to think about this.
Rochester has one of the best housing markets in the country.
Imagine how different life in Rochester would be if we also had one of the best urban school districts in the country.
Imagine how it would be if we were also one of the safest cities in New York State.
Imagine what a winning combination Rochester would have and how that winning combination could attract investment, businesses and jobs to our city.
Before I left DC, Ruth Knee MSW, a Pioneer member of the National Association of Social Workers invited me to have lunch with her at the Cosmos Club. Over lunch, Ms. Knee shared wisdom and a special gift. She told me that Monroe County had been the premiere county for social services throughout the 20th century. And, she gave me a wonderful gift – a copy of her mother’s travel diary documenting her mother’s journey from rural Kansas back to the southern tier to rediscover her roots.
Today, I am inspired by my colleagues and the accumulation of knowledge and experiential wisdom that they shared with me that led me to decide to move to Rochester.
As a Resiliency Strategies consultant, I am trained to apply resiliency thinking to problems. We cannot control all of the risk factors in the lives of children and families. But, if we turn that lens around – if, instead of focusing on risk factors, deficits and weaknesses, we focus on enhancing and strengthening protective factors, assets and strengths — we can make it possible for our community’s children, families, educators and businesses to be more resilient. When we understand that we are all stakeholders in public education, we can and will commit to doing everything within our resources and our power – our tax revenue, other financial contributions, our time, attention and energy – to making our children, families, educators, employers — everyone in our community be more resilient.
Rochester has a lot going for it. Yet, we’re also facing some very serious challenges. Rochester is the most violent city, per capita, in New York State. People in our community live with significant disparities that align with race, gender, household income, age, sexual orientation, disability – pretty much every demographic category there is. Those disparities exist in probably every community. And, they create problems for us in Rochester, just like they do in other communities.
Still, Rochester has some unique, significant assets that, if used properly, could make us a truly resilient community —
- one of the best housing markets in the country
- having been the premier county for social services in the US
- a city known for entrepreneurial successes for its small businesses
- a relatively good public transportation system that serves all of its citizens fairly well and equitably
- a city that does not have “food deserts” but, instead, has a wonderful Public Market as well as farmer’s markets in season, in addition to grocery stores
- one of the best library systems in the country
- vibrant arts, music and festivals
- amazing parks
- wonderful recreation centers
- impressive higher education institutions, and
- an impressively rich and diverse array of civic, religious, spiritual and charitable organizations that already connect and collaborate to work together, demonstrating our city’s wonderful civil rights history and culture that’s committed to being a truly diverse community.
Rochester also has a commitment to pre-K education. But, there is at least one key missing ingredient. Do we have a sufficient commitment and investment in quality child care? I suspect New York State regulations make it challenging for some creative, compassionate, trust-worthy and talented child care providers to be able to become full-time, licensed child care providers. It has been my experience that New York State has tended, with the best of intentions, to at times over-regulate, which has hurt us in terms of being able to attract business and provide much needed services.
Every community needs to provide quality child care. The return on investment – in terms of productivity and generativity from parents and other family member caregivers who can then work and contribute tax revenue and the longer-term return on investment from what results for the children who receive that quality child care – makes reforming regulations and making the investment in quality child care make both good economic sense and good social policy. What does not make sense is to do nothing because we cannot do it perfectly or because the regulations are so high in our well-intended attempts to control for safety and quality and provide oversight that we fail to do it. What does make sense is to reform the regulations and to make the investment because the social and economic returns on investment in quality child care are truly impressive.
Initial capital investments for quality day care start up businesses would require a significant amount of money.
How much money are we now paying to implement the Common Core standards and to prepare and administer high stakes standardized tests? Would businesses with solid histories here and those elsewhere that find our housing market and quality of life attractive be willing to invest in their children, our future citizens and their future workforce by making a financial commitment to quality child care?
Parents, educators, pediatricians, psychologists and social workers are not the only people “invested” in quality child care and early childhood education for children ages 0-5. Economists are also very interested. Why? The return on investment (ROI) is between $84K-$100K per child.
So, where is our money going now? Education reform has been dubbed the Reign of Error by former US Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to the Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander (1991-1993), education historian, professor, and author Diane Ravitch. Recently, we have heard parents, teachers and others call for NYSED Commission John King’s resignation. Even if Commissioner King’s resignation were to happen, scapegoating Commissioner King will not resolve the problems that exist with Common Core and Race to the Top. We cannot afford to scapegoat and “fail up” more of our public servants. We can do better than that.
During a recent visit to DC, I attended a policy forum focused on income inequality that included several distinguished speakers, including Hedrick Smith, a Pulitzer Prize winning former NY Times journalist and author of the book Who Stole the American Dream? and Dean Baker, Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. During the Q&A portion, I asked a question about the corporatization of public education. Economist Dean Baker immediately understood my question was about privatization. When students’ test scores go down, corporate profits go up.
Now, budgets for public education and other public services, as well as public worker pensions, are at risk of being “looted” (to quote investigative journalist Matt Taibbi’s headline in Rolling Stone) by corporations and Wall St. hedge fund managers. During the recent Federal government shutdown – which was an artificially-created, man-made crisis – using Naomi Klein Shock Doctrine style strategy, Congress quietly passed significant portions of the Ryan (R-WI) budget. And, Teach for America, which apparently has many friends in Congress, benefited.
Our children deserve better. Our futures deserve better. Our children deserve highly qualified teachers who are held accountable. Charter schools are not held accountable in the same ways that public schools are held accountable.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Undoubtedly, my work is motivated by good intentions. Other than being a homeowner in Rochester, I have “no skin the game” because I have no children. But, having been the Mental Wellness Program Coordinator for the NEA Health Information Network from 1999 to 2005, I care deeply about the safety, health, mental well-being, academic achievement, performance and resilience of all of our children. And, I care deeply about the safety, health, mental wellness and empowerment — the professional autonomy combined with accountability — for all of our teachers and other school staff. I trust the vast majority of our teachers and other school personnel. I believe there are many good reasons why the 2012 delegates to the NEA Delegate Assembly passed a new business item asking for information about PTSD. And, now, having done my homework, I believe that Common Core and Race to the Top – the corporatization and privatization of public education – may have been significant contributors to NEA delegates’ decision. Today, based on pressures from Common Core standards and high stakes standardized testing, too many of our schools and districts fit the criteria for being a hostile workplace. Not only have I heard educators tell me that’s been their experience, I’ve heard students and recent graduates tell me they observed their favorite and most effective teachers experiencing it.
My work for NEA, which began after the Columbine High School massacre, will not be my final contribution to public education and school mental health. The Jefferson County, Colorado school board has decided to sever ties with Common Core and InBloom, one of the corporate entities and the staff involved in its implementation. Jefferson County had been one of the early adopters of Common Core. And, Jefferson County is home to Columbine High School. Perhaps, through the experience of a terrible tragedy that brought immense trauma and loss to their community, Jefferson County school leaders and staff know it is essential that their teachers, administrators and other school staff have the time, energy and other resources needed to be responsive to the social and emotional needs of their students and students’ families.
I will continue to encourage every citizen in Rochester and Monroe County and beyond to vote and to become even better informed and even more involved. As a resiliency thinker, I know that high expectations are a key protective factor. We as citizens and as voters — as stakeholders in public education — can do better. We can get beyond perceiving it to be a personal attack on our elected officials when we say that we will seek to hold them all accountable to us, their constituents, and their consciences, over their campaign contributors or behind-the-scenes deals that may have been made. They are our leaders, our public officials, our public servants. There is nothing wrong with requiring accountability; but, getting it requires citizens to work harder, to become even more engaged and to become even more informed.
Democracy requires a lot of work.
I remain a registered Democrat and an active member of Organizing for America (OFA). As Pulitzer Prize winning former NY Times journalist Hedrick Smith points out in his book Who Stole the American Dream?, what we have now is a shareholder economy, not a stakeholder economy. I am a stakeholder in public education, not a shareholder.
Common Core and Race to the Top – this “reign of error” in education reform — is benefiting corporations at the expense of teaching and learning, educational success and the healthy development of students and the health and mental wellness of educators. If nothing changes, perhaps, the adults who are educators will be okay. Sadly, statistics show that most will choose to leave the profession. But, will students be okay? K-12 students can’t vote. Children don’t have nearly as many lobbyists as corporations do. They don’t get to choose their personal circumstances. And, for the most part, neither do their families. Everyone does the best they can. In the United States, the only guarantee a child gets by law is that we will provide them a free and appropriate public education. We don’t guarantee them housing or adequate nutrition or parents who are guaranteed to have adequate resources – time, energy, money, skills, support from family, friends, health care professionals or social services – to adequately raise them. We don’t guarantee that their parents will be able to find for them safe, quality child care, despite the fact that safe, quality child care is an investment that, economists say, has a return on investment of $7-17 for every dollar spent.
Hillary Clinton was right when she said it takes a village. How can we assure that all children will get what they need and deserve? Or, will we let children continue to lose so that the corporations can continue to gain? Have we finally reached the tipping point? Are we going to keep our eyes on the prize this time? Or are we going to let ourselves get distracted, intimidated, fooled or divided? “Divide and conquer” strategies work, particularly when we turn on each other — including on our teachers and other public servants — instead of seeing what’s really happening. Now that we see those strategies for what they are, are we going to continue to participate in them and, so, continue to not only let them work but, actually, contribute to helping them work? Or, are we ready now to re-build a stakeholder economy, starting with our public schools, by changing what we are doing with education reform?
Here’s a summary of what we are doing, that’s not working, compared to what we could be doing, that is working, in Finland:
Global Education Reform Movement The Finnish Way
test-based accountability trust-based responsibility
school choice equity
education as industry education as human right
As stakeholders, it is up to us. We’ve done our homework. We want our resources – our time, energy and school tax revenues – to be invested in teaching and learning rather than testing. We want a connection to school – to classmates, teachers and other school staff and administration – to return to being the protective factor in children’s lives that is used to be rather than continue to see it be turned into yet another risk factor that is beyond our control. We are citizens, voters, students, parents, teachers, school administrators, social workers, advocates and activists who demand that the “heist” for money and power in public education be stopped and that public education be restored to being a fundamental human right – a civil right – that every child in our nation is guaranteed.
References and Other Relevant Resources
Baker, Dean and Smith, Hedrick. Event: “You need a raise! Fighting growing income inequality and the policies that foster it.” policy forum featuring speakers Hedrick Smith – Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Who Stole the American Dream?”; Thea Lee – Deputy Chief of Staff, AFL-CIO President’s Office; Dean Baker – Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research; Lori Wallach – Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch; Lawrence Mishel – President, Economic Policy Institute; Moderator:
Solon Simmons – GMU Interim Dean, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution; Chair:
Sandra Klassen – National Affairs Committee, Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Host Sponsor: National Affairs Committee, Fairfax County Democratic Committee; Cosponsors: Virginia AFL-CIO, Economic Policy Institute Policy Center, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Northern Virginia Labor Federation, Virginia Progressive Caucus, Fairfax County NAACP, Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans of Virginia, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice in the National Capital Region, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Prince William County, 2nd 8th and 11th Congressional District Democratic Committees, PDA Virginia, NOVA MovetoAmend, and Herndon Voices. Twitter: @Income_Inequity
Bornstein, David. “Protecting Children from Toxic Stress,” The New York Times, October 30, 2013. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/30/protecting-children-from-toxic-stress/?_r=0
Bornstein, David. “Schools That Separate the Child from the Trauma,” The New York Times, November 13, 2013. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/separating-the-child-from-the-trauma/
Brennan, Morgan. “Cities Where Real Estate Is Ripe for a Rebound,” Forbes, January 1, 2012
Causey, Frances and Goldmacher, Donald. “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? And How We Can Get It Back” Berkeley, CA: Connect the Dot Productions. http://www.heist-themovie.com/index.html, http://www.heist-themovie.com/image/Heist_Press_Kit.pdf
Dimino, Beth, Port Jefferson Station Teachers Union, “You Have Awoken the Mommies,” East Setauket, NY, Ward Melville High School, http://thepjsta.org/2013/11/13/dimino-you-have-awoken-the-mommies/.
Hallmark, Elizabeth. “New York State Department of Education and PTA Collude in Silencing Parents,” Smugtown Beacon, October 15, 2013. http://www.smugtownbeacon.com/news.php?viewStory=1068
Hallmark, Elizabeth. “The King and Us,” Smugtown Beacon, November 11, 2013. http://www.smugtownbeacon.com/news.php?viewStory=1087
Lears, Jackson. “Reform of the Reform,” Commonweal, October 31, 2013. https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/book-reviews/reform-reform
MacAluso, Tom Louis. “Brizard returns, kind of,” The City Paper. Rochester, NY, October 16, 2013. http://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/NewsBlog/archives/2013/10/16/brizard-returns-kind-of
Malkin, Michelle. Big News in the Fight Against Common Core: InBloom-peddling Jefferson County CO superintendent resigns tonight: School board severs ties with InBloom
National Education Association Health Information Network and Center for Mental
Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Violence in Communities and Schools:
A Stress Reduction Guide for Teachers and Other School Staff. Washington, DC:
National Education Association Health Information Network, April 2001. http://www.resiliencystrategies.com/uploads/3/2/9/2/3292974/stress-guide.pdf
Accompanying Stress Self-Assessment Instrument – http://www.resiliencystrategies.com/uploads/3/2/9/2/3292974/stress_self_assessment.pdf
Powell, Willa. “How Game Theory Could Be a Game Changer for School Reform,” Smugtown Beacon, October 23, 2013. http://www.smugtownbeacon.com/news.php?viewStory=1070#.UmkFZgED9Bs.facebook
Ravitch, Diane. “Test-related Stress on the Rise in New York: CORRECTION!” Diane Ravitch’s Blog, November 10, 2013. http://dianeravitch.net/2013/11/10/test-related-stress-on-the-rise-in-new-york/
Ravitch, Diane. “Microsoft Abolishes Stack Ranking, Schools Required to Use It,” Diane Ravitch’s Blog, November 13, 2013. http://dianeravitch.net/2013/11/13/microsoft-abolishes-stack-ranking-schools-required-to-use-it/
Rutenbeck, James. “Are We Crazy About Our Kids?” California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, 2013. http://www.raisingofamerica.org/crazy-about-our-kids; http://raisingofamerica.org/sites/default/files/AreWeCrazy_Press%20Release-9-10-13.pdf
Sahlberg, Pasi. “The Finnish Miracle,” Chicago Humanities Festival, November 9, 2013. http://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Chicago-HF-2013.pdf
Smith, Hedrick. Who Stole the American Dream? New York: Random House, Inc., 2012
Staff, Popular Resistance.org. “Pivotal Trans Pacific Partnership Revealed,” TruthOut, November 12, 2013. http://truth-out.org/news/item/20006-breaking-pivotal-corporate-dominated-trans-parcific-partnership-section-revealed