How Are You Utilizing Your School's Resources?
By Hilderbrand Pelzer III
Author of Unlocking Potential
Too often we discuss instructional leadership without addressing the more important issue of resourceful leadership. In other words, how are we utilizing resources in schools to achieve quality teaching and learning and academic excellence? What trade-offs and tough decisions about resources are we making to ensure effective teaching and learning?
To some principals and school leaders, resources include time, money, space, people, and curriculum, with people being the most valuable resource and the resource most directly tied to student outcomes. Elizabeth A. City, the author of Resourceful Leadership, states, "What matters most is how resources are used...purposefully to change the teaching and learning happening in classrooms." I couldn't agree more.
If you are a principal or school leader, are you satisfied with your resources and how your school organization will use them? It is important for principals and school leaders to always analyze their resources and look closely at their effectiveness and impact on student achievement and outcomes.
Please share your thought or comments.
Bio: Hilderbrand Pelzer III leveraged the power of education and leadership to transform a school inside a prison. He has a strong belief that all children deserve a quality education, even those in prison. He has more than twenty years of experience in the field of education, and has served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, as well as assistant regional superintendent. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work in education. Hilderbrand is the author of Unlocking Potential. The book draws on his experience and his nationally acclaimed work inside the Philadelphia Prison System.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline Tunnels Through Alternative Education
By Hilderbrand Pelzer III
Author of Unlocking Potential
Bryant was charged with murder for strangling and killing his roommate at a Philadelphia psychiatric facility, where he was a resident receiving treatment for his serious mental and behavioral health disorders. Who would have thought that Bryant was capable of such a vicious crime? Who would have thought he posed a significant danger to himself and others around him?
Prior to Bryant’s fatal act of aggression toward his roommate and his eventual trip to prison for committing a murder, he was a public education student who was “sent” to an alternative school because he violated the student code of conduct. Before sending Bryant to an alternative school, there was no real regard for his mental state. Nor was there any regard for whether the alternative school that he was sent to was conducive to the type of teaching and learning support he so desperately needed. Oh well, it doesn’t matter! The zero-tolerance policy prevails. Bryant was out of his regular school setting and sent to an alternative school to never be heard from again. Now, he is in prison!
How many other students, like Bryant, find themselves in an alternative school for a student code of conduct infraction instead of in a school that can provide them with deliberate teaching and learning and care for their mental and behavioral health disorders?
It is a common practice of many school districts across the nation to set up alternative schools just to have an “educational setting” to dump their student code of conduct violators, despite the fact that their actions may be caused by a mental and behavioral health disorder.
In 2012, school districts should be more knowledgeable about the value of alternative education. It adds to the public educational experience by advancing a number of exciting school models and approaches to teaching and learning. With the growing public dissatisfaction with traditional public schools, parents and students are looking for a different educational experience. They want an experience that offers a highly charged academic learning environment, small student-to-teacher ratios and class sizes, close relationships between students and teachers, and a stronger sense of school community. Instead, the design and function of alternative education is all wrong in many school districts. It is the lockup for students that other schools don’t want.
Too often alternative education practices perpetuate criminalization; hence, the school-to-prison pipeline. It is overpopulated with black and Latino boys. The terms behavior, discipline and alternative education are linked in holy matrimony. Students formerly adjudicated delinquents or currently involved in the juvenile justice system or assigned probation officers make up the typical student population. In fact, in many instance, judges and probation officers hold the most influence over students in alternative schools and, as a result, they typically attend school solely to appease the orders of judges and not the orders of their parents, teachers or principals. When the order is lifted, you usually see the school attendance for these students declining.
With the assembly line nature of sending students to an alternative education setting, the enrollment process in alternative schools is more chaotic and constantly compromises academic functions and instructional coherence. With an already growing enrollment of students who have violated the student code of conduct or who have been suspended for long-terms or who find themselves years behind academically, it is easy for alternative schools to get overpopulated and lose academic focus. The students’ mental and behavioral health disorders start taking over and teaching and learning takes a back seat.
Alternative education for the purpose of warehousing students is a major contributor to the widening achievement gap and educational disparities. It displaces the academic mission of schools at a time when all schools need to focus on each student’s academic development. It propels low performance through remedial and low-level teaching and learning experiences. It is not uncommon to find poorly skilled and underprepared teachers in alternative school classrooms. At every opportunity to fix alternative education, decision-makers have chosen not to change. They use the alternative education setting as the tunnel that hides students as they travel from the school to prison.
For the sake of public education, alternative education cannot continue to be the asylum where students with mental and behavioral health disorders are warehoused. While I will be the first to admit that schools must not tolerate poor behaviors or crimes inside schools, alternative education should not be tagged as the “educational setting” to accommodate students with mental and behavioral health disorders. Alternative education should be tagged as the “educational setting” that motivates, educates and inspires students to excel and achieve in school.
What do you think? I am sure there are other opinions out there. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think is a major contributor to the schools-to-prison pipeline.
Feature Article from the Vanguard, Fall 2011 - A Newsletter published by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color
While most people associate school buses with children, education, and the color yellow, the vehicles conjure up an entirely different image for Hilderbrand Pelzer III. As the principal of the Pennypack House School—the Philadelphia public school that operates within the Philadelphia Prison System—the buses Pelzer saw on a daily basis were white, used to transfer inmates from correctional facilities to courthouses, and the embodiment of the path from public school to dropout to crime to prison that so many young men of color find themselves on.
With a focus on juvenile defendants who have been charged as adults, Pelzer examines education behind bars in his recently published book, Unlocking Potential: Organizing a School Inside a Prison.
“Correctional education is a subject most people don’t think about, but for defendants who are still of school age there are legal requirements and ramifications for education,” explains Pelzer. “The model we used in Philadelphia was to integrate school into the prison system.”
Over ninety percent of state prisons provide some kind of educational program for their students according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, a national survey by the Center for Effective Collaboration and Peace
found that only 29 percent of juveniles in U.S. adult correctional facilities were enrolled in education programs.
In his four years as head of Pennypack House, Pelzer enrolled over 2,000 youths in the school’s program. Many of these youths came to Pennypack from a public school system that had failed to properly engage them, and left them lagging many years behind in their academic development. “Despite the conditions of prison, I felt that the school had to be the one place where students could feel their lives improving in an academic culture that was nurturing and organized around a strong commitment to their growth and learning,” writes Pelzer in his book.
At COSEBOC’s Fifth Annual Gathering, a number of members saw firsthand what education was like behind bars when they took part in a community service event at Pennypack House. Accompanied by Pelzer and COSEBOC Executive Director Ron Walker, the group of volunteers engaged in discussion and activities with 50 young men between the ages 15 and 17 who were serving time.
“Our visit to Pennypack was truly a powerfully memorable experience for every man who made the trip. The work that Hilderbrand had put in to create an environment that values education was very apparent. It further illuminated my belief that young men of color when given positive models and mentors can be affirmatively developed, reclaimed, and transformed no matter their circumstances,” says Ron Walker.
In order to create the conditions that so impressed the visiting COSEBOC delegation Pelzer introduced a number of reforms into Pennypack that can assist others who run educational programs for adjudicated youth. Chief among these efforts was the creation of the Juvenile Focused Correctional Education School Model (JFCESM). The model addresses a variety of issues related to curriculum, instruction, and navigating space and resources.
“Key to the strategy is to use the local district curriculum—it is both accessible and cost-effective. We also used a cohort model with two to four teachers teaching 15 to 20 students. Using this model helps to build a relationship between students and teachers,” says Pelzer. The model is non-graded and each student receives grade- appropriate instruction in core courses (literacy, math, science, and social studies).
The implementation of JFCESM has had a positive effect on everyone associated with Pennypack, including students, staff, and administrators. Despite this, some question whether education belongs behind bars, a question Pelzer pointedly addresses in the book.
“So often we hear rhetoric about education from public officials: ‘All children deserve a quality education’; ‘all students can learn’; or (famously) ‘No Child Left Behind.’ If these statements have any truth, no student should receive an inferior education simply because of where he or she attends school.”
Learn more: http://www.hp3-unlockingpotential.com
By Tonisha Pinckney, Philadelphia Life Coach Examiner Posted: 09/14/2011 6:06 PM
A life-long resident of Philadelphia and current resident in the Mt. Airy section of the city, Mr. Hilderbrand Pelzer III has a unique passion for the youth of Philadelphia. Mr Pelzer is an award-winning educator. He served the youth as a teacher, principal, and assistant regional superintendent. Impressively, Mr. Pelzer received national recognition for his leadership at the Pennypack House School (a Philadelphia public school which operates within the Philadelphia juvenile prison system ).
When asked, “What sparked your passion for juvenile justice reform including quality education?” Mr. Pelzer said, “I first became involved in correctional education in 1989, as a young man right out of college. I worked as a teacher and coach at the Bensalem YDC, a juvenile correctional facility for many of PA’s notorious juvenile offenders. As a teacher, I had a front row seat to the educational and academic challenges and limitations that just about all of the students demonstrated. In fact, it was my goal to move my career into sports management; but, after observing so much educational despair I decided to pursue a career in educational leadership. I realized that there were a lot of myths about the possibilities and capabilities of high functioning schools in prisons and the willingness of inmates to pursue education or complete a high school education. Also, with the fact that correctional facilities are designed for security and incarceration purposes, integrating and organizing schools inside of them is very difficult. Yet, school-age youth are in jails all around the world. They are entitled to an education. But, there is no model to provide that education.”
While addressing concerns about the juvenile justice system in the United States, but specifically in Philadelphia, one must address the issue of flash mobs. Flash mobs have become dangerous and even deadly. Many believe the teens should be arrested and prosecuted harshly. Mr. Pelzer says, “I think the flash-mob problem demonstrates the destructive path that some youths seek. Youths involved in the flash-mobs, as well as those that seek to engage in criminal activity, should be held for justice.” There are those who would not agree. Some feel flash mobs are the result of the lack of funding for activities and training which interest youths. In other words, they have too much free time, too much energy, too much on their minds, and too few adults caring or listening. Some Philadelphians feel the prosecution of teens involved in flash mobs is selective and disproportionate. They wonder if African-American youths are more prone to being arrested and prosecuted than those of other races. Whichever belief you hold, flash mobs are a problem which must be dealt with and the juvenile justice system must be prepared to address the problem, be the solution, and reform the youths.
Mr. Pelzer has a book entitled Unlocking Potential: Organizing a School Inside a Prison . His “overall goal for writing [his] book [was] to show school superintendents, corrections professionals, teachers, and educators of all levels how to make superior educational services for incarcerated school-age youth come alive.” His book reveals a model which can be replicated in public schools everywhere. Mr. Pelzer says, “The model is built around the important relationships between students and teachers and curriculum and instruction.” His book was inspired by his work inside the Philadelphia Prison System, the 5th largest urban county jail system in the US.
Mr. Hilderbrand Pelzer, III is an example of a man, a strong African-American man, who sees a problem with the system and instead of complaining, he confronted the system with a model created to address the problem. Mr. Pelzer is an agent of change. He makes himself, his knowledge, his wisdom, his education, and his experiences available to incarcerated and at-risk youths (directly or indirectly) so they do not forget that the American Dream is obtainable. Mr. Pelzer reminds the educators and politicians that no one is exempt from living the American Dream regardless of culture, heritage, or criminal background. As he says, “I believe the American Dream is attainable! With the right guidance and support from our community partners we can ALL move closer to reaching the dream.”
Contact Info for Mr. Hilderbrand Pelzer III | Unlocking Potential
Unlocking Potential: Organizing a School Inside a Prison available online at major retailers
Good Work: Challenge by Tom Vander Ark March 27, 2011
I climb not only for the solitude, beauty, phsical exertion, or bonds of friendship I found in the mountains, but also because of an attraction to danger. -Jim Wickwire
In sports, recreation, and in my work, I have always enjoyed a challenge. But more than anything before or since, being a public school superintendent is a challenge. I’ve been thinking about this for several weeks after meal with current and former superintendents. It’s a challenging job the way it is constructed–reporting to a revolving door elected body, inheriting a maze of contracts and policies, and whipsawed by state politics and budgets.
There is so much that I didn’t know when I took the job. It is hard to explain to the onlooker the shock of jumping in with both feet. The leadership agenda is quite similar to other sectors, but there are three fundamental differences: the people, the politics and the economics.
People drawn to education as a profession are usually mission-driven and caring, but often risk adverse. The bulk of veteran teachers signed up for an employment bargain that valued longevity and loyalty and granted classroom independence. Given who they are and what they signed up for, it’s important (for folks like me) not to assume that performance incentives and attempts to measure contribution won’t work the same way they do in business. Another surprise about the people in education is that it is even more seasonal than retail–you get one shot to change stuff in the spring around budget time and then you’re not supposed to change things during the school year.
Working with the other half of the people equation–parents–was a whole different shock. Parents can be either very critical or completely disengaged (or worse); in twenty years we have gone from “the teacher is always right” and “wait until your father gets home” to “my child is always right” and “my attorney will be contacting the governor”. Emotions are at an all time high as parents and teachers, who share the common experience of the American comprehensive high school, try to figure out why everything is changing so rapidly. They recall a high school experience that worked for them but fail to realize our high schools are not preparing most of our young people for their future.
The politics of public education are like a big red union, intense and multi-layered. Working between five elected officials and nine unions is topped only by the thousands of pages of state and federal regulations that govern education. Education is the most over-regulated, and as a result inefficient, segment of the economy. Decades of well-intentioned legislation have created layers of special programs, each having gained a vocal constituency, which now weigh down a system struggling to improve outcomes.
The economics of public education are convoluted. Money comes from a variety of sources in little buckets with lots of strings attached. School districts are required to monitor and report on program compliance not whether it made a difference for children. The accounting requirements look like they were designed by waves of politicians (because they were). All too often the schools that face the greatest challenges receive the lowest per pupil funding. Super majority requirements for renewal of local funding in some states give residents one of the few opportunities they have to say “NO” to the high cumulative tax burden which they bear. The inability of districts to fund school construction is a national problem created by the collision of the baby boom echo and an aging population growing weary of tax increases.
In my mid 30′s I was clear about my calling to work in education but found it frustrating and occasionally overwhelming. During my first few years as superintendent, I frequently found myself driving around wondering “what makes you think you can actually do this job?”. The weight is heavy, the questions are complex, the temptation to simplify and blame is great.
The superintendency can be frustrating and draining, but, like mountain climbing, the rewards are occasionally equal to the challenge. The greatest reward is watching students grow, whether it is seeing thousands of graduates becoming productive citizens, or receiving one letter from a child whose life was turned around by a teacher that cared. The challenges are greater than they could have described, but so are the rewards.
Every job has its own unique challenges and rewards. The challenges are often self evident, but the rewards can be subtle, long-term, or indirect. Take time to remind yourself of the rewards that make the work worthwhile. Taking up your calling, living into your voice and living out your convictions will challenge you physically, mentally and spiritually. Pick challenges great enough to stretch, rewarding enough to satisfy, but not so big that it will devour you. Don’t attempt a superintendency unless, like Wickwire, you have a strange attraction for danger.
by Hilderbrand Pelzer III
Today’s thinking, by many people across the country, is that good educational leaders don’t necessarily need to have the traditional credentials or come from within the educational establishment. In fact, there is a national push to recruit non-traditional school leaders and superintendents.
With education across the country changing rapidly, and President Obama calling for innovation and creative thinking to build our country’s future, a variety of education organizations and individuals, from a variety of professional backgrounds, are providing outstanding educational opportunities for students. These organizations and professionals are leading and stepping up and taking responsibility for the education and achievement of students, once reserved for traditional principals and superintendents. What do you think about this trend in education? Do you think it is time to develop new educational leaders and expand the focus on who can and should lead schools and school districts? What do you think? Please share.
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