In a time of overwhelming anxiety about the well being of our children, several community residents thought that the Highland Park Superintendent of Schools Scott Taylor struck just the right tone in the below letter to the community. The message is neither alarmist nor political, but rather deliberate and comforting in presenting a strategy and philosophy dealing with the health and well being of the students in Highland Park Schools.
Families and Guardians-
Many of us are unnerved by the terrible event that occurred in Parkland, Florida yesterday. Every school shooting confirms my conviction that our kids are growing up in an extremely difficult time and need social, emotional, and psychological support as much as anything else if they are going to grow up to be mentally healthy and happy adults.
I write this letter not to echo how we’re reacting to the violence that occurred in South Florida but to reassure you that your schools “get it.” Being a high-performing academic institution is important and Highland Park will continue to maintain its excellent reputation in this area, but no child or young adult will ever succeed unless he/she feels connected to school, loved by peers and adults, and knows that Irving, Bartle, the middle, and high schools care deeply about your children. Below is just a snapshot of how we have, in the last two years, greatly increased our focus on personal wellness:
- We’re slowing but surely putting the scaling back the “old school way” of punishing students who misbehave, building in ways we can reconnect kids to their school community and giving them the behavioral and mental health support they need to learn to make better decisions. The middle and high schools are in Year One of a three-year plan to move toward a “restorative practices” approach ( https://www.iirp.edu/what-we-do/what-is-restorative-practices )
- We’re helping kids feel confident about themselves, strengthening their interpersonal skills, and encouraging them to have strong and healthy relationships with their peers. Responsive Classroom at Irving and Bartle ( https://www.responsiveclassroom.org ), the Bartle Social-Emotional Decision-Making Lab, and the soon-to-be launched Sources of Strength program at the middle and high schools ( https://sourcesofstrength.org ) are strategies to help in these areas.
- We’re enhancing everyone’s awareness and attitude about the different cultural traits our kids bring to school. Understanding our hidden biases, recognizing how we may inadvertently “microaggress” and identifying the influence of dominant “narratives” that may suppress kids’ identity are vital learnings in which we must continue to engage to wrap our arms around all of our students so they feel a sense of belonging to the school community.
I’d be remiss in my effort to make you feel confident that the school district has an “all-in” attitude toward protecting your kids if I didn’t point out that highly structured and organized safety measures in place to respond to events like what occured yesterday.
The District Safety Committee has been meeting semi-monthly since 2015 to plan, codify, and help school personnel practice measures to maintain security. This group is comprises support staff, teachers, leaders, local clergy, police, Office of Emergency Management personnel, and members of our board of education. We will meet soon to reflect on what happened yesterday and consider what else can be taken away from what our friends in Parkland experienced.
Our schools’ support staff, teachers, supervisors, principals, and I love your children. We’re committed to doing everything in our power to keep them safe and protected. Being a parent/guardian during this time may be difficult, knowing that your children are without your reach for seven hours of the day, five days a week, but know full well that we’ll keep a nurturing, comforting eye on them always.