Gangs can be a scary subject for many educators. Gang violence can be “ugly” and something some educators would prefer not to envision as having a possibility of occurring in their schools. Talking about gangs in schools can also make school administrators uncomfortable due to image and school-community relations concerns.
My colleague, Chuck Hibbert, and I were fortunate to spend the past two days providing professional development training at a renewal for school administrators in a Midwest district which applied for and received a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant last year. Managing media and parent communications was the topic of our first day in-service. The second day, today, was focused on gangs and school safety.
We were fortunate to work with a district where the superintendent has been supportive of the REMS grant and in making sure the necessary time was allocated to implement the training and multitude of other activities associated with the grant. His grant project directors, like many REMS grantees, pulled “double duty” in administering the grant in addition to their already busy central office administrative responsibilities. The superintendent was also supportive of spending a half-day of annual renewal meeting time to focus exclusively on gangs.
Our structure for the gang training was designed to be practical and useful. The half-day session was broken down into four segments:
- National trends in gang violence and management, and school safety best practices for prevention and response provided from a national school safety consultant’s perspective (me);
- A historical review of gang-specific trends and incidents over the past 20 years from the district’s now-retired school security director;
- A presentation by a detective from the local police department who focused on specific gangs, gang identifiers, recent cases and local trends, and related information unique to the city and, in particular, to the community served by the school district.
- Q&A, along with discussion, by school administrators, school police, and security personnel about what works in adult relationships with gang members in their schools, gang involvement by children as young as elementary school level (the police detective shared one recent case involving a 7-year-old gang-involved male), and putting gangs into the overall context of school safety and day-to-day education issues.
My belief is simple: Outside consultants from hundreds of miles away should not be paid to come into a local school district to present a workshop primarily of identifiers (graffiti, signs, clothing, etc.) of gangs they believe may exist in a community. Local police are the best sources and should be tapped for this task. They know the most current information and trends, and will be the person who the educators actually see coming into their schools to investigate gang-related incidents which may occur.
The consultants can bring a perspective on national trends, best practices in prevention and response, and a bigger picture view of the impact of gangs on school safety. They can also say some things which, for political reasons, local school administrators and police officers may or may not be able to candidly say in a training session. These things often need to be said, but out of fear of political correctness or not upsetting other agencies, information presented can sometimes be “couched” in politically-correct manners or not said at all.
On-site feedback today was positive. None of the presenters stepped on the toes of the other presenters, and each presenters’ comments built upon those of the other speakers. It was a nice way of offering a balanced but candid presentation, the “big picture” nationally, an in-depth look at local gang activity, and some practical advice for preventing and managing school gang activity.
Are your school leaders willing to have open, candid conversations about the impact of gangs on school safety? Will they dedicate time to do so? Will the presentation be properly structured to be comprehensive but also to make it useful and practical for participants?
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