Warm-Up Question: How are new school policies created? Do you agree with the process? Comment below this blog with your answers.
School systems are complex organizations, bureaucracies with stipulations and processes that reform measures must crawl through. Those in the classroom and in the trenches follow the orders that trickle down, but normally don’t have an understanding of how they were formed. At least that was the case with me. When I was in the classroom, I never went to a school board meeting. I closed my door and did my own thing, ignored everything else until the top down came crashing in. Actually, that’s not true. I went to my first school board meeting in 2013 during the 1st Annual Black History Month Knowledge Bowl competition, an all Black jeopardy style tournament that draws teams from schools all around the city. Cool right? It’s the brain child of Djinga St. Louis, the Rochester City School District’s director of African-American Affairs and the type of stuff that makes your heart smile. That is if you respect the culture and understand the importance of students learning and knowing about themselves. That’s my whole objective when teaching, so you know I was too hype to coach the team at All City (an alternative school. Around here alternative is a euphemism for dumb). We killed that first year and my kids were such gracious champions. They made me so proud. I digress horribly, sorry!
So where was I? I’m a consultant now and my job is to advise and roll up my sleeves to assist the Rochester City School District (RCSD) in creating, instituting, and implementing a new code of conduct; meant to reduce suspensions and the school-to-prison-pipeline. It’s the type of policy that will affect everybody in the school community and the type of policy that people normally learn about too late. Fortunately, the RCSD has been very vocal and transparent about the new code. They’re really seeking feedback and buy-in. I’m offering my platform to help them get it.
The code’s first stage of adoption was the policy meeting. It’s a very organized process. Proposed policies are submitted and then sent via courier to school board members for review days before the meeting. The actual policy presentation is sent ahead of time too and projected on the screen before you even arrive. (I know, I peeked in early to make sure I had the right time. Your girl ain’t trying to make any mistakes). There’s a few chairs against the wall for spectators and in the heart of the room, two long tables face each other from about six feet apart. There’s sleek microphones placed at each seat and decorum and a hollow peacefulness. I appreciated the formalness.
The little spectator section was friendly. Members of the community task force, the code of conduct work group, Chuck Johnson, chief legal counsel (who cracks me up, but I guess I’m not supposed to like him. Folks been looking at me cross-eyed lately. Remind me to write another blog titled the “Black Box”), Mike Smith, director of transportation, another really funny guy. Ruth Turner Executive Director or Student Supports. Dr. Otuwa, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, and Kisha Morgan, special assistant to Dr. Otuwa, sat at one of the tables across from four members of the school board, including the parent rep. Kisha was working the slides, Dr. Otuwa was doing the talking. She was stone faced and poised, but from where I sat I could see her foot tapping under the table. There’s a lot riding on this and as a Black woman, she’s under additional scrutiny. The foot tap was her way of suckling on her own strength.
The meeting went well. Our cheering squad smiled and nudged each other. The new code of conduct was passed through to the next stage. There were hugs, a few tears, long pumping handshakes.