Keeping the Balance
NJASA has a long and proud tradition of advocating for children and preparing leaders to steer schools and districts in the direction of positive futures. The children of New Jersey represent the future of our great state, nation and world; and we have the responsibility to effectively educate all students through our public education system. We also recognize that educating all students extends far beyond the four walls of the academic curriculum. As school leaders, we understand that students’ social and emotional learning is just as critical as their academic education.
Pennsylvania State University with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published an Issue Brief titled, "Social Emotional Learning in Elementary School Preparation for Success." This April 1, 2017 publication is "one of a series of briefs that addresses the need for research, practice and policy on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The brief identified the following Key Findings:
- SEL programs can promote academic achievement and healthy, positive behaviors.
- SEL is critical to students’ success and shows a positive return on investment.
- Effective programs address everything from individual student instruction to overall school climate.
- They are also evidence-based, are improved by partnering with families, are culturally and linguistically sensitive, and include teacher training.
The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) states, "SEL refers to the process by which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to do the following: understand and manage emotions; set and achieve positive goals; feel and show empathy for others; and make responsible decisions. Students in SEL programs are more likely to attend school and receive better grades, and are less likely to have conduct problems. Successful infusion of SEL can result in positive behaviors, increased academic success, and caring communities."
Interesting to note the word positive is highlighted in four areas in the above references. The term positive behaviors is a very powerful expression. In an ideal setting, society would like everyone to demonstrate the qualities and characteristics of positive behavior. The harsh reality is that does not happen. Several contributing factors from one’s physical and mental health, to his/her family structure and socio-economic environment may contribute to negative behavior.
People have begun to question if the Sandy Hook tragedy and teen suicides could happen in quiet residential communities, could it happen anywhere? Colleagues, it is with a very heavy heart we have learned that these unfortunately horrific events can occur anywhere, at any time and that is unacceptable!
The challenge for us as school leaders and our communities is to balance the safety, well-being and security of students while allowing them the freedom they need to learn. Schools are supposed to be the safest places that children can be – not the places they have to run from! But we need to remember schools, like homes and businesses, are subject to outside influences beyond their control.
The Association’s leadership has been addressing the broad topic of positive behavior that covers the topics of school safety, mental health and violence. NJASA is not alone in this quest. Our elected officials, Attorneys General, County Prosecutors, Commissioners of Education, school leaders and staff members; as well as local citizens and parents are all working together to modify and strengthen agreements between law enforcement and school officials.
Equally disturbing is teen suicides. Seven students, either Mercer County residents or attending a public school in the county, committed suicide during a 20-month period. Chief education officers from the county launched a "first step" program that brought together representatives from the State’s Traumatic Loss Coalition, mental health providers, community members and parents to initiate a countywide focus on mental health to address this compelling situation.
After experiencing two student suicides within ten months, the Ocean City School District, under the tutelage of the District’s Chief Education Officer and the 2018 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year Dr. Kathleen Taylor with board and community support, initiated a district program titled, Lifelines, that focuses on prevention, intervention and post-vention.
NJASA commends our school leaders for their efforts in combating these life-altering crises, as well as the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) new partnership with the Sandy Hook Promise (SHP).
As I noted earlier, our challenge is to balance the safety of students while allowing them the freedom they need to learn. Schools are an open environment where students are on playgrounds, athletic fields, and walking or being bused to and from school. Students remain at schools late into the evenings and on weekends in auditoriums, gymnasiums, athletic fields and classrooms. It is our responsibility to make them safe.
If you have information or a program that you would like to share with your colleagues, please email NJASA Director of Communications Anne H Gallagher.
On behalf of society, thank you for all you do.