We all share a desire to make schools safe places where every student thrives academically. And according to the U.S. Department of Education, schools are one of the safest places for our children.
The work of schools has changed to focus on, instead of ignore, the safety of students and the civil treatment of one another. These commitments are reflected in the Wichita school district's mission and shared beliefs for the 50,000 students who walk through our doors each day.
I have received many questions about the article in which Kansas State Board of Education member Walt Chappell suggested that our schools are out of control and that disciplinary problems are underreported ("Student misbehavior up," Sept. 12 Eagle).
The Wichita district does not underreport data or neglect incidents related to school safety. On the contrary, teams of caring adults address behavioral incidents large and small in order to respond to the incidents at hand and, more important, prevent larger and more serious incidents from ever occurring.
School safety training always has been a core strength of our district, and this training recently has expanded to recognize the dangers of bullying, both directly and via computer. We have an obligation to educate our students and encourage them to report incidents of bullying and to address any concerns directly.
As with any public awareness effort, you would expect reported incidents to increase as students, staff and parents alike recognize the behaviors that constitute bullying. Our data tells us that our education efforts are working, and we can better focus our resources on the students and schools where additional supports are needed.
Our school board recently heard from national expert Randy Sprick, lead consultant for Safe & Civil Schools in Eugene, Ore. Sprick's work — to set up schools and classrooms that encourage student responsibility and motivation while helping misbehaving students learn to behave in more responsible ways — is a core component of our district's five-year strategic plan to increase student achievement throughout Wichita.
School leaders know that our students represent our society, and that behavioral issues always will be part of the daily support structure we must provide our kids. But we also know that with a thoughtful and effective system, we will continue to make schools the safest place for our children.
I hear often that "schools just aren't what they used to be." I would agree — they are much better than they used to be. We are focused on the success of each and every student, achievement is rising, we are graduating more students than at any time in our history, and our schools are safer than ever before.
I encourage you to see firsthand how we are preparing our students to be our community's future leaders.