Weekly Feature

2018-10-11 / Editorial

Education leaders focus on safety, health

Managing Editor

What’s on the minds of most boards of education in the Empire State? Functional electronic tablets? New white boards? Turf fields? Homecoming events?

As the new school year begins, school boards are taking very seriously their responsibilities for ensuring students a safe and productive learning environment by improving school safety, implementing a new mental health curriculum and optimizing resource equity across all buildings in the school district.

“In a world that is too often unfair, school board members are determined to protect the rights of every student,” said New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer.

School boards are largely focusing on four areas this year, all of which cut across school district boundaries, racial and ethnic lines, and socioeconomic conditions.

School boards know that nothing is more important to parents than the safety of their children. Many districts throughout the state included funding for enhanced school security measures in their 2018-19 budgets. Much of that funding is for hiring school resource officers, staff training, and installing new security technology such as video surveillance, emergency notification systems and physical access controls.

Starting this school year, New York State is the first in the nation to require all elementary, middle and high schools to include instruction in mental health as part of the health education curriculum. “Clearly, there has never been a better time to move mental health education out of the shadows and into the classroom, exactly where it belongs,” said Kremer. School boards are quickly becoming well-versed in the new requirement, leveraging partnerships to increase program capacity and leading the way in destigmatizing the issue of mental illness in their communities.

A school’s climate affects a student’s sense of safety and acceptance – critical to the task of learning. New this school year, New York’s federally approved Every Student Succeeds Act accountability plan requires every school to survey its students, staff and parents to measure school climate. Feedback from these surveys will reveal strengths and weaknesses. As part of this ESSA process, boards will develop a school climate mission statement, establish a community engagement team and identify necessary resources to address needs.

As of the end of August, 76 school districts were required to file a new School Funding Transparency report with the New York State Division of the Budget and the State Education Department. School board members are taking a keen interest in how stakeholders react to these reports, which lay out district budget allocations for each school building on a per-pupil basis. This analysis includes building-level data on student demographics, teacher experience and per-pupil funding as well as descriptions of unique circumstances that result in building-by-building variations.

“School boards face a daunting task in balancing the fair treatment of students against the availability of resources and the introduction of new state and federal mandates,” said Kremer. “NYSSBA’s role is to help our members make informed decisions that are good for kids.”

The New York State School Boards Association represents more than 650 school boards and more than 5,000 school board members in New York.

Let’s make sure that conversations about turf fields and homecoming events are never overshadowed by a lack of attention to classroom safety. Our kids are depending on us.

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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