| Dear JCPS,|
I am a teacher at Iroquois High School. We are on fire. The recent news reports only show a very small portion of the absolute hell our school has become. Today (Friday 11/1/19) I witnessed no less than four fights. This is the norm. A kid sat in traffic on Taylor Boulevard.
We have multiple staff attacked. Let me tell you about the district response:
They sent a bunch of central office people over to stand around. Assistant superintendents Zeitz, Rogers, and a couple others. They don’t know our kids or staff. They stood around and pretended to help, but didn’t do anything.
Half of our teachers don’t even show up anymore, and I’ll be blunt that many of our teachers are terrible, but they’re all we can find.
Our principal is DONE. Our assistant principals don’t want to be here and the kids don’t respect them. Our counselors are done and don’t want to be here.
Our building is on fire and the district does NOTHING.
We need a real principal, real leadership, and real support with chronic misbehavior. JCTA does nothing to support us. We need real leadership and real support.
Please help us.
Iroquois Business and Education Academy Teacher
In the weeks since the incident at Jeffersontown High School, questions have been raised about whether the district should continue to have School Resource Officers (SROs). As I have followed this issue on social media, I have been dismayed, not that there are those speaking out in favor of SROs, but that so many are refusing to even acknowledge that there is another side to this issue. This is an important conversation that needs to be had. And both sides need to be heard.
I am a parent of six children who are former or current JCPS students, three of whom are black males. As a white parent of black sons, I have had a rude awakening to what black parents have known for years: the unjust criminalization of black men in this country is very real, very painful, and very damaging to the young black males we are raising.
I can cite numerous examples in my sons’ young lives in which they have already experienced this. I will share one with you here. One of my sons has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which causes speech and language delays, as well as brain damage in the area of the brain that controls emotion. By the time he was in kindergarten, he had an IEP which included instructions on how to handle him if he became escalated. His kindergarten teacher evidently neglected to read his IEP and had a conflict with him one day that ultimately resulted in him physically attacking her. Having been on the receiving end of his attacks before, I knew how upsetting they could be. However, he was also small for his age and clearly developmentally delayed. So I was shocked when I arrived at the school to meet with her and the first words out of her mouth were, “Just so you know, I plan to press criminal charges.” On a five-year-old. Who was small for his age. With a mental health disability.
Thankfully, when I reminded her of his IEP and pointed out that she didn’t follow it, she chose not to follow through. But I have often wondered in the years since, if that school had an SRO at the time, would he have already been under arrest by the time I arrived? If the teacher had had her way, he would have been. I also came away wondering what made her look at my child and see a criminal instead of a scared, damaged little boy?
The answer to that is the color of his skin. Dr. Kristin Anderson notes in Psychology Today that studies in facial perception have shown that white Americans interpret anger in a neutral facial expression for African American males, but don’t do so for other people. In video simulation studies people fire at an armed target more quickly if he is African American than if he is white, and they decide not to shoot an unarmed white target more quickly than an unarmed African American target. If a target is black, respondents require less certainty that he is holding a gun before they decide to shoot. Anderson suggests that this is at least partly due to our brains being conditioned by what we see on TV, where “African American men are overrepresented as criminal suspects and underrepresented as victims of crime in comparison to actual crime statistics.”
No matter how well-intentioned any of us are, or how much we abhor racism, we all (including African Americans) have been conditioned to criminalize black men. This truth is lived out in our criminal justice system.
According to the NAACP, African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites. African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court. Added to this, a report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission published just last month noted that black men serve sentences that are on average 19.1 percent longer than those for white men for similar crimes.
Parents of African American males in the school system are justified in our concerns that SROs in the schools actually threaten our sons’ safety. If they get arrested at school, the consequences for them are much more likely to be greater than they are for their white counterparts. The Justice Policy Institute notes that not only are black students three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, one study showed that white students were more likely to be disciplined for provable, documentable offenses — smoking, vandalism, and obscene language — while black students were more likely to be disciplined for more subjective reasons, such as disrespect.
The Institute also noted, “A landmark study of Texas discipline policies found that 97 percent of school suspensions were the choice of school administrators. Only 3 percent of students had broken rules that made suspension a required punishment, such as carrying a weapon to school. And those discretionary suspensions fell particularly hard on black students: they were 31 percent more likely to receive a discretionary suspension, even after controlling for 83 other variables.” One report from the Justice Policy Institute found that, even controlling for a school district’s poverty level, schools with officers had five times as many arrests for “disorderly conduct” as schools without them. Those arrests disproportionately affect black male students. As noted above, those black male students get significantly harsher consequences once they have found their way into the juvenile justice system than other students do.
As long as we live in a society where African American men serve sentences 19.1 percent longer than white men for similar offenses, I don’t want police officers in schools.
As long as we live in a society where African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites, I don’t want police officers in schools.
As long as we live in a society where African American children represent 52% of the arrests of children that get waived to criminal court, I don’t want police officers in schools.
As long as we live in a society where black students are being disciplined at school at higher rates for the same offenses as other students, I don’t want police officers in schools.
As long as we live in a society where a kindergarten teacher can look at a five year old black child and see a criminal instead of a damaged, scared little boy, I don’t want police officers in schools.
Does this mean I don’t care about school safety? Of course not. Does this mean I think SROs should be pulled out of all the schools with no alternative plan in place? Absolutely not. It simply means the district needs to examine this issue closely and determine if SROs truly makes everyone safer, or in fact threaten the safety of one segment of the population. If this is the case, then we need to look at other alternatives for keeping our schools safe – one that makes EVERYONE safer, not just some.
The views expressed here are those of the author. If you or someone you know has a concern regarding events taking place at JTown or another JCPS school, you are encouraged to submit a letter using our open letter form.
White privilege is real. So is generational, institutionalized racism. Nowhere is it more prevalent than in our public school system. But often, those who make the rules have a hard time seeing how those rules can limit access to opportunity for others. While these issues are nothing to make light of, sometimes you need a hands-on approach to help white students or family members understand their privilege. We hope this example is of benefit to those who wish to approach these sensitive, yet undeniable, issues with an open heart and open mind. (Download a PDF of the flyer here.)
Set up your GAME BOARD. Give yourself cash, properties and hotels and houses, totaling $18,000. Your opponent gets the traditional $1,500 to start. This 12:1 disparity represents the median amount of wealth transferred from whites to their heirs, compared with African Americans.
There are two sets of CARDS. Educational injustices experienced by students of color go in the FAT CHANCE pile (click here to print your own cards). Tax breaks, stock market gains, work bonuses, opportunities due to “who you know,” etc. go in the PRIVILEGED COMMUNITY CHEST.
They choose their TOKEN (the IRON, because it’s the only one that’s left), and the game commences.
When they notice that the board is not set up equitably, they complain. You respond with, “That’s in the past. We’re all equal now. Let’s play!“ You roll and proceed to move forward the correct number of spaces.
When a player lands on a “DRAW A CARD” SQUARE, you draw from PRIVILEGED COMMUNITY CHEST. Your opponent draws from the FAT CHANCE pile. These distinctly different stacks of cards represent the systemic disparities still in place from generations of targeting, profiling and redlining of the black community reflected in policies and norms throughout society today.
When your opponent lands on YOUR PROPERTIES, they pay you RENT. If you own all properties in a COLOR GROUP, their rent is DOUBLED.
When you land on THEIR PROPERTIES, same thing. Except, they probably don’t own any properties, you bought most of them (or inherited them) before they got there.
Eventually, they will inevitably land on one of your HOUSES or HOTELS and they won’t have enough cash to continue. If they happen to have purchased a property, they have the option to MORTGAGE their property to the bank in order to stay in the game. However, they only get half the LOAN AMOUNT on the back of the card.
When your opponent runs out of cash, they have to GO TO JAIL, while you continue to roll the dice until all assets have been acquired. If they complain about any of the rules, you say, “That was one of the rules that was decided on before you got here. Don’t like it? Get here earlier next time.”
OBJECT OF THE GAME:
To inspire whites to understand their privilege enough to research it and develop talking points so they can respond to others who try to marginalize it by saying racism or privilege don’t exist, and to commit to fight to create equitable learning opportunities for our children of color.
Credits: Created by Gay Adelmann. Inspired by Shelton McElroy and Jane Elliott.
Disclaimer: We realize this post will probably upset some of our white followers. However, in this current climate, and the increasing suffering of our students of color, we believe it’s a chance we must take. If you disagree with the examples presented in this post, it’s possible that you are not one of the ones impacted by them. The FAT CHANCE CARDS were created based on actual examples experienced by students of color in our district. These hurdles continue to happen every day in our schools. And we cannot end them until we acknowledge they exist.
I briefly reviewed the results of the recent audit. It seems that the documents I read about the audit, and nearly every other document about or by JCPS, rarely address real-life problems faced by students and teachers…issues that the general public are rarely aware of. Here are a few:
- Students who are supposed to be receiving counseling and mental health services are not getting their needs met. There are too many students needing too many services and the 1 mental health counselor in the school can’t possibly meet the demand. Kids are falling through the cracks.
- Teachers can’t teach. Kids can’t learn. The district has created an atmosphere that inundates teachers and other school staff with an unimaginable amount of paperwork, meetings, number crunching and data, data, data. In moderation, these are all great and necessary. But it’s primarily bullshit. These mandates keep teachers so stressed out with deadline after deadline. Paperwork has truly become a part-time job.
- West End schools are failing. JCPS IS a disaster. Kids need more help. Teachers need more help. Students in these schools experience trauma on a daily basis, yet programs, policies and promises never live up to the hype – they never produce results because the people making the decisions are those who have worked hard to climb the ladder and ‘get out of the classroom’. Teachers are under such scrutiny. More and more demands are placed on teachers’ very limited time. We are expected to teach cookie-cutter, scripted lessons to students who act out, due to trauma, in the way of fighting, throwing objects, kicking chairs, destroying property – crying out for help. Clearly, they need MORE help. Clearly, they are living a trauma-based life. THEY NEED MORE. COOKIE-CUTTER, DISTRICT approaches DON’T WORK. We know what’s waiting for our students of poverty. Why not offer real interventions that could change the trajectory of their lives? Why not ask teachers what help THEY need to better serve their students? Does the district even care?
- Many principals push all the district mandates without thinking about the specific population of students they are serving; without thinking about all the demands that are placed on teachers and how hard they work day in and day out. Everyone in education it seems touts “students come first.” This is such crap. Nothing is further from the truth in my opinion. It should be, “covering our butts” comes first. The people who know their students best, are rarely asked what they need to help their kids. And even if you were asked, you couldn’t tell the truth for fear of retribution. It’s one way – the district’s – or the highway.
- Here at JCPS, there’s one way to teach. If kids can’t recite the standard they are learning, then you’re an ineffective teacher. If the wording of the learning objective is misstated, uh-oh. If you’re not using the script of the “research-based” brand-new program we’re shoving down your throat, whoops. I’m not a teacher. I’m a robot. My poor kids.
- PLC’s are exhausting. Nobody likes them. Just another avenue for administration to regurgitate what the district erroneously considers “best practices.” PLCs are the epitome of number-crunching, uber-focus on data, more tracking, more paperwork, more of “you’re shit teachers and you’re not doing it the way we believe it’s right.”
- BULLYING IS AN ISSUE! Some administrators either don’t know how to handle it, don’t believe they can change it, or they completely disregard it on a systemic level. If only parents knew! It’s ridiculous.
- PGES is another way JCPS covers their butt. It’s more paperwork. It’s more deadlines. It’s a joke.
- Teachers work hard and put in very long hours, often to the detriment of their family-life, health, etc. They love their students. They truly don’t stop when the bell rings. I would ask that the district and admin cut us some slack, for crying out loud. Give us a voice. Let us teach!
How in the world did we get to where we are in education today? Prior to the last 4 or 5 years, I felt I was truly able to teach and meet the needs of my kids. Not sure if it was the initiation of Common Core or the beginning of Hargens rule. Regardless, I am so frustrated and I feel helpless and hopeless. It’s time to REALLY start putting our kids AND teachers first.
A JCPS Teacher
Why is it that the females in our schools are punished more severely than the boys? I have been in the JCPS system for years, and every year when girls act up, their punishments are almost 3 times as harsh as when boys do the same “crime.” I used to coach for a boys athletic team here, and even though I finished the season with them, they were horrible. Lack of discipline and respect for the teachers Continue Reading
I work in one of the elementary schools in the Southwest part of the city. Our school is one of the Compassionate Schools. Three times each week, our students learn how to calm themselves down, and to use words instead of fists. Despite this training, there are students who get caught up in bickering and fights on a daily basis. When asked to use other strategies, we are told by the kids that their parents told them to fight back. Here is a letter I received from a student who engaged in fighting even though I strongly discouraged her from doing so. Continue Reading
This is an email that was sent by an Academy @ Shawnee Sophomore to Dr. Hargens on Sunday, Nov. 27. She asked that Dear JCPS publish it our our open letter forum.
Dear Dr. Hargens,
I wanted to follow up with you in regards to my speech that I gave at the JCPS Board meeting on November, 15th. On your way out the door when my mother mentioned a possible follow up email being sent about #BringBacktheColonel your response was “think about the programs as a whole, not just one person.” So, I went home and read again the letter that was sent home by Ms. Benboe on November 9th, explaining the personnel changes that happened at my school, the Academy@Shawnee, over a 4 day break for the students. What I noticed was the statement about the magnet programs. The following was taken directly from the letter:
FINALLY, OUR MAGNET PROGRAMS HAVE NOT CHANGED; STUDENTS WILL CONTINUE TO RECEIVE SUPPORT AND RESOURCES FOR ALL OF OUR CURRENT MAGNET PROGRAMS.
When Ms. Benboe and the District transfers the magnet coordinator, Col. William Vander Meer with no plans to replace him, then to say that the magnet programs will not change is a contradiction. The programs changed at 2:30 in the afternoon on Nov. 4 when the Colonel was told that he was being transferred to Central High School, effective immediately. We, the students, will not continue to receive ALL the support and resources that were available to us with the Colonel gone. I’ll share with you an example about the aviation program. On November 5th, the day after his transfer, there were about 15 Shawnee Middle and High school students that were to meet him at Hanger 7 at Bowman Field, to take plane rides. Only because he holds a seat on the Board of Directors for Hanger 7, were those students, myself included, still able to go on the plane rides. I actually got to fly a plane and logged air time for the first time that morning. Those types of outings and programs were the direct result from the Colonels passion for the kids, for learning and for the excitement of aviation.
Another example that maybe you are not aware of, is a new program with UPS, which the Colonel was able to arrange for our school. The freshman this year will be paired up with UPS pilots. The pilots will follow and mentor, one on one, the students for their entire 4 years in high school. What an opportunity. Once again it was because of the Colonel’s connections with the community and his drive for the success of the Academy@Shawnee.
I could you give example after example, if you care to listen, of how the Colonel’s 19 years of experience and his community connections promotes all of the students attending the Academy@Shawnee’s Middle and High Schools. He was one of a few administration personal that was bridging the Middle school to the High school.
However, I would like to share with you how I felt when I was attending the Board meeting that night. During the first part of the meeting when schools were getting recognized, I was sitting in the audience getting frustrated, hurt and then angry. All of these schools were talking about teacher relationships with their students and how awesome of an experience that is. Our school has teachers leaving to go to different school to teach every single day. So, to have the few remaining in our building meant the world to me and to the other 150 children that signed our petition. The swift and quiet transfer of the Colonel just feels like a punishment. A punishment in which our school does not deserve. I have already had the experience earlier this year of a teacher being fired by the District and then just 6 days later she was reinstated by the District to her teaching position. So, that is why I am asking you again: Dr. Hargens, will you please transfer Col. William VanderMeer back to the Academy@Shawnee?
Good evening. My name is Stephen Cain.
I had been the Chief Flight Instructor at The Academy @ Shawnee for the past 10 years. I come before you tonight to ask why you Board members indirectly, and Dr. Hargens directly, have done anything/everything in your power to destroy success at The Academy @ Shawnee.
I left Shawnee this past summer because, after 10 years there, I saw negative trends, or at least, no positive changes in the future and I felt powerless fighting for advances. I had a very difficult time deciding what to do because I loved, and still love, my students.
I’ve held my tongue the entire time because of possible/ probable retribution from administrators and a past principal, but now I can’t any longer.
All of the hard work and effort to build a nationally respected aviation program, an outstanding NJROTC program and robotics program, by people like Keith Look, Col Will Vandermeer, Mr. Tito, Tyler Shearon, Crystal Darensbourg, Master Chief Vermillion, Mr. Armendariz, Mr. Mike, Mr. Suggs, Mr. Rose, many additional staff members, and so many dedicated parents are being killed by the top administrators and board members at JCPS.
Several years ago, when Dr. Look left, Dr. Hargens did not seek advice from the school community for a new principal and she gave us a disastrous replacement after about six months. That person almost singlehandedly ruined the school. Once he disappeared in Spring 2015, we went without a replacement until 36 hours prior to the new school year and once again without listening to the input from the school, parents and students.
The school population wanted someone with knowledge of Shawnee students and their unique challenges as their new leader. Faculty, staff, parents, and most importantly students want consistency in leadership because they were going through another leadership change in less than 2 years. Yet once again Dr. Hargens found someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Mrs. Benboe is a good person and has worked hard to improve the situation at Shawnee, however she came from outside our Shawnee community and had no idea of the overwhelming challenges Shawnee students face. This put her and the students at a disadvantage.
We have all recently seen the magnitude of issues boiling over at the school and yet, once again, Dr. Hargens has directly interfered in the school and dismissed three of the most respected staff members. WHY? When teacher turnover is already an issue at the school, why create more? How is that in the best interest of the students at Shawnee?
So, as I asked at the beginning of my statement: why have you Board members indirectly, and Dr. Hargens, directly done anything/everything in your power to destroy success at The Academy @ Shawnee? If you want to close The Academy @ Shawnee, be straight forward and say so. Don’t kill it by 1000 cuts.
These students deserve better from their leaders.
Editor’s note: The Academy @ Shawnee lost their SBDM powers 5 years ago when the school went into Priority Status. The school community has had very little influence over the decisions that have been made at the school level, and the continued abuse and neglect of that school, as well as their inability to exit priority status, lies fully at the feet of district leadership.
Watch the entire video here (there is a brief video outage at the beginning), including an interruption from Vice Chair Porter when she was concerned Mr. Cain might say something negative about district leadership’s “chosen” principal.
My name is M, and I am a junior at the Academy @ Shawnee. You might recognize me from this time last year when I stood before you and spoke about how I never had a math teacher at all last year and didn’t receive what I deserve as a student because of it.
Well, I stand before you at this moment because once again my fellow classmates and I or not getting what we need and deserve. Recently, a lot of changes have been made to my school and the most problematic or infelicitous change has been the change in staff. If you aren’t familiar with the background of most students at my school, most of (them/us) come from a lamentable background and don’t have a perfect support system. The people who were taken away from our school were some of the most understanding, caring and solicitous staff at my school. My school is not just a regular school. We need more than your average school and we definitely need and deserve more than what is being given to us.
Before I close, I would just like to ask that the next time you make a decision about what is being done to a school whose background and culture you aren’t familiar with, I would like to ask that you think about who it really affects, and that is the students.
Student’s name has been replaced with first initial.
The Academy @ Shawnee has been in the news a lot recently, but the truth is not what the district leaders would have you believe. We’ve been begging for their support for years, and instead of flotation devices, they throw us bricks. Students need supports and interventions, they respond with retribution.
A timeline of events going back 10 years is currently being developed to help shed some light on these systemic and repeated injustices that have led to a population finally saying, “Enough is enough!”
In the meantime, the comments from community reveal that there is more to the story. It reeks of adult-driven agendas and retribution, not what’s in the best interest of the students. Here are some of the posts and comments from Facebook.