The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, weighs heavily on my mind. Those of you who have followed Wow!Ed and the Center for Educational Improvement know that we are grounded in the concept of “heart centered education.” Since I have come to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Gail Connelly, the Executive Director of NAESP has helped to expand this to the concept of Heart Centered Leadership.
Courage, compassion, confidence, consciousness, and community are the underpinnings of Heart Centered Education and Leadership. My dream is to transform society by integrating these into the heart and soul of schools. Even as we mourn the victims, the innocent children, and the courageous teachers and school administrators at Sandy Hook, we mourn a society where individuals such as the perpetrator feel so betrayed, isolated, alienated, and aloof that they can commit such horrendous acts of violence. Many aspects of school and society need to change so that we are able to reach out to and engage alienated youth.
The answers to Sandy Hook are many and complex. However, action is needed on many fronts. Violence must end and we must take action. NAESP has teamed with other national education organizations, including NASSP and NEA, to propose these legislative recommendations to Congress, adding to comments submitted to the Vice President’s National Gun Violence Task Force (see below). This is NAESP’s first position on gun-related policies.
Recognizing principals’ vital role in maintaining school safety and connecting families with supportive services, NAESP and NASSP offered the following recommendations to the task force:
1. Create a federal inter-agency coordinating council led by select agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Justice and Homeland Security.
2. Dedicate a nationwide public education and awareness campaign about the mental health needs of youth and adults, which are often shortchanged or neglected.
3. Remove barriers between education and local health service agencies, and encourage local communities to focus on schools as the ‘hub’ for service delivery.
4.Create clear policies to support principals to build partnerships with community mental health service providers and local law enforcement.
5.Bolster federal programs to prevent bullying and harassment in our nation’s schools, which can have a dramatic impact in improving school safety and, correspondingly, achievement for all students.
6.Give states and local communities the ability to combine federal and state funding streams that flow from separate agencies where mental health and school safety can be addressed, and encourage community-based mental health organizations to work in cooperation with local law enforcement, schools, and other key community stakeholders to create a system of community-based mental health response and threat assessment.