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Jan. 26: Restorative justice and school leadership

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  • 01-30-2013
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On Saturday, Jan. 26, approximately 100 school and community leaders filled the Robert F. Kennedy Complex Library for a panel discussion on alternative approaches to school discipline. RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND SCHOOL LEADERSHIP—Building Safe and Inclusive Public Schools was sponsored by Los Angeles Communities for Public Education Reform and the UCLA Principals’ Center. The panel discussion featured community leaders Maisie Chin of CADRE, Alberto Retana of the Community Coalition, and Esthefanie Solano of InnerCity Struggle. It also included princpals Leyda Garcia of the UCLA Community School, Chuck Flores from the NOW Academy, Ben Gertner of CNMT at Roosevelt High School, and Jose Navarro of the Social Justice Humanitas Academy. UCLA Professor John Rogers facilitated the panel. His introductory comments are copied below.


    I welcome you on behalf of UCLA’s Principals’ Center and the Los Angeles network of Communities for Public Education Reform. Communities for Public Education Reform is a network of community-based organizations in cities across the United States that advocate for well-resourced, equitable, safe, and inclusive public schools. We have brought together both school and community leaders for this conversation because school discipline and school safety are issues we share together.

    This is an important conversation, but a difficult one. One of the panelists told me earlier this week that:  “This area of schooling brings out the best and worst of everybody.” It is about our profound commitments to do right by young people within a broader political and cultural environment that often valorizes violence while undervaluing young people, particularly young people of color.

    I wanted to begin this morning with the words of Sylvia Rousseau, a former principal and district administrator here in LA. I interviewed Sylvia last week about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. One question I asked was what lessons she draws for school leaders today from Dr. King's philosophy of non-violence? Here’s what Dr. Rousseau said:

    “Discrimination and oppression have hurt a lot of children for a very long time, and they bear the marks from generations past. Some students come to school with their hurts, which cause them to act in ways that are harmful to themselves and others. School doesn't mean a whole lot to them. When they manifest these issues in their behavior, you can't let them tear up the schools, and you don't want to suspend them. So we need to have resources that are preventive, recognizing the issues our students face. The classroom has to be a place of respect, shaped by a curriculum and pedagogy that respects their lives. It’s about creating better schools where students have opportunities to be problem-solvers and creators. They require support in managing their challenges while they adopt identities as high achieving students. That is the role of a liberating education. Anything less reduces students to widgets or what Freire would call mere objects.”

    I start here with Dr. Rousseau because her words highlight the complexity of the issue we come here to discuss today. The problems that present themselves in schools have deep roots that require nuanced understanding and holistic responses. Dr. Rousseau’s comments also suggest that the stakes are high here. The way that we approach school discipline has a profound effect on how we think about the humanity of young people and the possibilities for their development.

    Today, we are fortunate to be able to engage this topic with a panel of school and community leaders that have a history of grappling with these issues.


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