Much has been, and will be, written about the latest incident of senseless violence on a school campus. But there will never be a rational explanation for what has happened or anything written that can reasonably justify the taking of the lives of our children.
Schools across this state and across this country take very seriously the responsibility for developing school safety plans that protect students and staff during times of crisis or disaster. Our school campuses are generally the safest places in our communities. But these plans are not designed to, nor should we expect them to, protect our schools against horrific acts of violence.
We think that in a free society like ours there will always be opportunities for troubled individuals to violate our societal norms and harm our fellow citizens; that is part of the price of freedom. But at the same time, we believe that the key to having safer schools is to have a safer society in general.
A culture that glorifies violence increases its tolerance for and acceptance of violence. Our children grow up believing that conflict and acrimony are normal; examples range from the highest levels of government – for example, the lack of resolution of the “fiscal cliff” – to the conduct of individuals who lash out against others and use confrontational and violent behavior regularly. In order to really break the chain of violence in our communities, we must address the manner in which conflict and violence is handled in our society.
We believe that one of the primary roles of public education is to teach and reinforce the cultural norms that make the American experiment unique among all other nations of the world. Our society gives individual freedom, but demands individual responsibility. And we believe that early educational experiences play an essential role in the formation of positive, constructive attitudes that will last a lifetime.
As is often the case, we believe the key to safer schools is a very long-term proposition and will require a commitment that goes far beyond the fences of the school site. It will require that as a state and as a nation we teach and model the principles of peace building and diplomacy in our schools and in our communities. Regrettably, with the highest class sizes in the nation and fewer counselors, nurses, administrators and support personnel of all types, schools in California do not have the resources they need to successfully champion this urgent and momentous cause. We hope Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature will recognize this point as they examine the priority that public education enjoys in our state.
We hope the lesson in the recent series of senseless killings is that we can only elevate our society by elevating everyone in it. No one can be left behind. We are all Americans, and an American problem is our personal problem. How we treat the next-door neighbor or the homeless person on the street will be noticed by our children and will find its way into the norms they establish for themselves as they become adults.
During this holiday season, those of us fortunate enough to be with friends and family have an opportunity to strengthen the culture of our nation by modeling the principles of peace, diplomacy and basic human kindness. An opportunity to influence a child, any child, in a positive way must be taken fully. One can only wonder, in the case of recent violence against innocent schoolchildren, how many opportunities were lost because someone didn’t think it was important to care or to act.
All of us at School Services of California will be engaged in an examination of our own opportunities to teach peace, diplomacy and kindness, and we encourage you to do the same. As educators, we have the ability to change our nation one lesson at a time. But we cannot do it alone – the issue of societal violence needs to be addressed at every level right now.
Founded in 1975, School Services of California has served most of California’s school districts, county offices and community colleges in meeting their management, governance and fiscal responsibilities. The effective administration of California’s public schools has always been the firm’s primary mission and the company has played an integral role in the development and implementation of education policy at both the state and local levels.
Ron Bennett is president and CEO of School Services of California. Previously he served as the Chief Business Official for Long Beach Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District and ABC Unified School District. He holds an MBA from Michigan State University and a BBA from the University of Oklahoma, and is licensed as a CPA (inactive) in the state of Oklahoma.
Suzanne Speck is director, Management Consulting Services, at School Services of California. For more than 20 years, she has served school districts in California as a special education teacher, site administrator and human resources professional. She received two credentials and her master’s degree in Education Administration from California State University, Sacramento.