Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Don't Shoot" Peoria's New Anti-Gun Violence Initiative Pt. 2

On Wednesday evening 8/29 at Riverside Community Church, David M. Kennedy delivered information to about 200 to 300 Peoria citizens interested in the concepts of his book and hearing  strategies and opinions on combating Peoria gun violence. In a riveting speech designed to not only stir emotions, but also conscience, Kennedy outlined a systemic problem starting with perceptions and stereotypes tracing their roots as far back as the civil rights era all the way to modern family life, education and inculturation.  
David M Kennedy
"Drug dealing is not a way to get rich. Studies show they make less than they could earn on a minimum wage job. No benefits, no retirement plan or health insurance and they have to work in the rain" ~ David M. Kennedy 8/29/2012
What was probably most shocking to audience members, was that Kennedy recounted that FBI statistics on crime are down to 4 homicides per 100,000 nationwide. He explained that  those figures are deceptive and not representative of what's really going on in the inner cities. For example, neighborhoods such as the Crescent neighborhood of Rochester, NY reflect a 526/100,000 homicide rate among those who are actively engaged in drugs and gangs. He also noted the numbers are worse in areas such as Chicago's W.Garfield Park, whose 1500 gang members actually produce an equivalent homicide rate of 3,000/100,000.
Exposing cultural stereotypes and questioning why these numbers aren't either the subject of the 2012 political debate and campaign promises, Kennedy unraveled what I call an ugly baby. A baby delivered almost DOA (dead on arrival)  exposing that these high homicide rates exist among  select groups of Blacks and minorities. These numbers exist among people who have become accustomed to crime, violence, incarceration, distrust and the disintegration of the entire community and the erosion of their family.
Hello...Have You Been Listening??? 
As I sat there, I understood that what many people don't know is that since 1980 there have been over 300,000 homicides of Black people committed by other Black people in the United States. In other words the Black community is exploding and there is very little being done to stop it.
One of the most disappointing realities of this session was that there were probably less than 50 Black people in attendance and less than a handful of Black Pastors and even less with churches in the affected neighborhoods, areas or communities. There could be many reasons for this, not to mention that Wed. night is a bible study night in many churches (which is something that could have been thought of if the intent was to involve the optimal number of Pastoral leaders and citizens within the affected neighborhoods...but I digress) I also thought that many of those civic "leaders" who were in attendance, were not going to hear this message from the Black community  (as similar information has been delivered to City officials by Black men and has fallen on deaf ears) their thoughts and assessments discarded, in part, because of what is perceived as "racial pressures" or accusations of racism or irrational and emotional thoughts.
The good thing is that when a White man (David Kennedy) says the same thing and writes about it in a book, it can be perceived differently and seems to be more acceptable to some in Peoria. My feeling is however and through whomever the message is getting across...the message is finally getting across, and WE are glad! 
Our Opinion Of The Effort  
The Don't Shoot initiative involves a totally different approach to solving crime from an administrative level, and as Mr. Kennedy said, "...if Peoria is serious" there is potential that this program will have a positive effect on decreasing crime and violence and saving lives in Peoria. Let me examine some of the "elements" that have been recognized as being essential from a professional standpoint to make this program work.  
States Attorney Jerry Brady
States Attorney
The States Attorney, Jerry Brady, seems to have taken an approach of community inclusion and accessibility which a very positive step. This is miles above former States Attorney, now Judge, Kevin Lyons, who was unavailable for anything other than the promotion of his political career while touting the fact that under his 20 plus years he was ready to "lock up" whomever he could. (with some major exceptions that will not be discussed here) ie: under the Lyons leadership the States Attorney office was simply uninvolved and there was no strategy that he would listen to that could come close to "Don't Shoot" with the exception of the DMI which came about toward the end of his tenure. Nevertheless, and Thank God, we are encouraged by Brady's approach in this regard.  
The Peoria Police 

Hopefully, Police Chief Settingsgaard will feel the need to drop "Broken Windows" as a community policing strategy or at least be compelled to modify the application of it to some degree. In addition, I hope that he will understand from this point forward, that it is essential to meet with all community leaders who have input in changing this community. The reason that this is important is because the Chief informed me in a 5/2/08 letter that because he and I were "incompatible" as leaders that he couldn't continue relationship with our organization simply because I pressed him to do what he committed to do, by providing a record of disposition on all the handguns taken in during the 2007 Peoria Gun Exchange event. To date, the Chief has refused to provide the agreed upon information and disrespects us as a community partner by contending that he and his department has to do nothing in response to our request. (see the letter that the Chief sent to me below)
Peoria Police Chief Settingsgaard

Quite frankly, when it comes to a community and community service, and life and death issues such as those we are dealing with in Peoria, people who are "incompatible" are compelled to meet one another and reach toward greater goals to secure opportunities, get things done, and potentially save lives.
That leads to the next issue and something that I promised to deliver in a previous post.
What If...The City Of Peoria Recidivism Plan???
Mr. Kennedy outlined the problems seemingly fanned by disproportionate incarceration rates of Blacks and minorities within America. As we reported in Black Education In Peoria..We Are Under-served?  over half of the 2 million men in prison today are Black although Black men represent only 13% of the US population. Black men are also 6.5 times more likely to to be in prison than White men. Black men at a rate of 3,161/100,000 are under custody or care of the Federal or State penile system as compared to White men at a rate of 487/100,000. In essence, the system is slanted against the Black individual more so than a White individual.
Not only that but there is also a link to education, (which is why we take such a bold stance on issues dealing with education as one can't effectively advocate for the Black community or community in general without advocating for better and more effective education) There is a link to opportunity as well. That opportunity to contribute to society is taken away from many Black men when they are arrested and there is little to no help in reintegrating these same persons when they have served their time and are trying to get back involved in society in a productive manner. 
In Peoria plans to address this problem and subsequent issues go unheeded or are simply overlooked. For example, at a meeting in 2009, (quite a few murders and arrests ago) I pitched a recidivism plan to Police Chief Settingsgaard which outlined creating a community and a network around those who were trying to re-enter society from prison or jail. This program included access and mentoring from the pastoral community, citizenship training and outreach from police officials, and involvement of the business community for apprenticeship training and possible job preparation and placement. The plan was developed in response to the Chief's commentary and Peoria Police findings that new crimes annually were flat, while repeat offenders were increasing in incarceration rates annually. ie: The same people were basically committing crimes within the community and going to jail over and over.
In a proposal that outlined reintegration and the creation of a system of accountability as specified above, and education for the particular target individual, the Chief simply responded by saying that it may be hard to get police personnel to "buy into" a program such as ours because many of the police had spent time, and had become personally involved in apprehending some of the individuals who would be reintegrating.???
I know...I said the same (or similar) thing....I don't to this day understand the objection. That was a ridiculous sentiment IF the aim is to address what we readily recognize is a problem segment and the source of crime and violence within the community. 
Is The City Ready For Fundamental Change?
What am I saying? I am saying that IF this city is ready to FUNDAMENTALLY change their approach to crime and how that is addressed and solved, this program may have a chance.
Mayor Jim Ardis
The Mayor's Office
Although Mayor Ardis is excited about the book and the program, if Peoria is ready to do more than "window dress" or put on a program to "look good", restricting it to a certain select few as they have done since 2007 in many instances, this program can change the lives of many people who both live in and outside of the affected areas.
However, one can't deal with gangs and drug dealers and simply walk away when one is tired. This effort must be sustained and inclusive and failure to involve individuals in the very same neighborhoods in which many of these crimes occur and have occurred is not a good move, nor is it sound wisdom. To set forth a program while ignoring the needs, culture (days that Black folk have church for instance) and individuals on the ground is not good either.  
A final note, although he (Mayor Ardis) didn't restrict or discourage the efforts of the Pastor's Assn., Mayor Ardis has committed to me in no uncertain terms, that there will be no Gun Exchange associated with this program. All I can say is that IF they are serious EVERY proactive measure should be considered and supported. Although a Gun Exchange is not the end all of any effort against gun violence, I will gladly give $100 to potentially stop and address gun violence before it occurs than pay the $40,000 per year afterward to lock up the one who shoots the gun, kills someone, destroys himself and potentially another family, providing him/her 3 meals and a cot on our dime.
Don't Shoot, may have begun with a book, but it will continue with people who are unafraid to get dirty, believe in standing for and doing the right thing, have their feet on the ground and set forth a good faith effort to reach out to ALL those who have a stake in the issue and have suffered loss.
Hopefully, this will be done the right way instead of the same old Peoria way that has led us, in many cases to what we see and experience at this point.
Let Us Pray!
Pastor Harvey Burnett
Director Peoria Assn. Of Pastors

A Letter From The Peoria Chief Of Police:
btw: 1- The Gun Exchange was NOT co-sponsored by the city, this ws fully sponsored by the Peoria Assn. of Pasotrs. 2- A full listing of disposition WAS agreed on BEFORE the exchange and has not yet been delivered for our review. 3- I delivered a letter to his office only after he would not return calls and at least one email sent asking for the information or a time frame. 4- In the meantime, the Chief seems to have became upset as our organization spoke out on another public issue, dealing with the Police, that had nothign to do with this without "running it by him" first.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Dr. Steve Perry Delivers Vision Of "Excellence" To Peoria District 150

The Peoria Pastors Assn. thanks Dr. Steve Perry, for the service he rendered to District 150 teachers, parents and the Peoria community. In three sessions, Dr. Perry delivered a vision of modern education that challenged, motivated, inspired, tore down and uplifted all at the same time. I will discuss 2 of those sessions in this post.

The Morning Session
This first session was met with guarded enthusiasm by teacher's union faithful. The reason for this "caution" was because Dr. Perry, who is vocal regarding union issues and benefits in education, (a sentiment that we certainly agree with) took the time to uncover the fact that the teacher and administrators, as adults, are  responsible for the creation and maintenance of their educational environments which includes the progress in education of the students that they have been assigned to oversee. Dr. Perry boldly expressed that the job of teaching should be met with sincere dedication and with a passion for the profession and a sincere love for children and their progress which makes all the difference.
Contrary to criticism, the "blame" for poor performance in education wasn't laid squarely at the feet of the teacher. However, what was delivered spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that the teacher is the most important piece in the puzzle of a successful education. So important, as he explained, that their environment should center around how they can successfully reach and engage their target audience, the children.
An example was delivered of a child who returned homework completed, but also completely wrong. Dr. Perry explained that  a teacher with average dedication will simply grade the work, provide an "F" and wonder. Whereas, a teacher dedicated to excellence will observe the child's efforts, and make sure that before that child leaves the school every question was worked through and his/her questions answered thoroughly and correctly with prepared direction toward further work and new concepts.

As you can see in the video below, that message is not fully understood by the union representatives, who, for now, are more focused on the personal relationship with school administration, aka: Dr. Grenita Lathan, than addressing the serious issues of educational mediocrity and student success or failure.
Although he said that he agreed with 90% of what Dr. Perry said at the All District portion of the event, the Peoria Federation Of Teacher's Union President, Bobby Darling, complained that Dr. Perry's message focused on a small group of Peoria teachers stating the following:

“I thought he (Dr. Steve Perry) was a poor choice of speakers, I don’t think it was a productive way to start the school year," ( (Parenthesis added)
There is no statement or suggestion made today that could have been further away from the truth. Dr. Perry was ABSOLUTELY and unequivocally the RIGHT person for this event and even more for Peoria School District 150 teachers, parents and students for a number of reasons that I will outline in the balance of the article.

Evening, Parent University Session:

Attended by as many as 200 persons including parents and various community members, the evening session that was just as dynamic if not more so than the AM session.

Without a doubt Dr. Perry continued to be challenging and far reaching in his scope. However, what he delivered was information building upon the TEAM concept of education where teachers, parents and administrators work together to the benefit and achievement of the child's education success.  
First, The Union...

Although Dr. Perry is required to be a union member himself, he noted that the best question to ask is when does union agenda become STUDENT agenda? When will the union establish a position for the benefit of the students or to better educate the students? The Peoria Teachers Union, like most, advocate for the position of their constituents and members. Unfortunately, union "members" aren't the kids and their agenda normally never revolves around making things better for the children. This is a subject that is most challenging for the teachers and the point of contention as it pertains to classroom performance in Peoria Dist. 150.  (I'll have a little more along this lines at the end of the article under "I've Long Been Offended")

The Parents

Don't think they got away. Dr. Perry explained that it is the parents duty to advocate for their child or children, focusing on the "macro" issues of importance that produce a complete and successful educational experience for the children. He instructed that it was the parents job to pull out every stop to help make their child's education the best that it can possibly be. It is also the parent's duty to resolve issues professionally and with all diligence. Inappropriate dress, such as scarves, flip-flops and pajamas not only embarrass one's own self, but embarrasses and discourages the child and doesn't aid or assist in resolving problems and issues. Parental support in all areas of the child's academic life is important including during extra-curricular activities.

Finally, Dr. Perry encouraged parents to know the system of how complaints are filed, know the agenda including educational scores and performance of not only the district, but of the school in particularly,  and know what to fight for. Dr. Perry encouraged parents to continue to participate in Parent University or other PTO sessions on an ongoing basis to stay aware of issues.

The Teachers

This usually causes the problem. In Peoria, the epithet has been "you can't turn rocks into gold" which is a sentiment that a teacher delivered at the Peoria School District 150 meeting in opposition to accountability standards for teachers and education professionals.  In other words some of the children are of inadequate quality to educate. In addition, being poor or economically disadvantaged, may be an excuse for under performance. These sentiments solidify the thought that it is the child's fault, whether economically or mentally, for their inability to learn. In this session, as in the first, we discovered that there is nothing and I mean NOTHING further from the truth.

Dr. Perry discussed that the teacher has a duty to TEACH and this means to take what is given, add some spice to the curriculum and reach the mind of the student. This is a comprehensive undertaking. Under performing and behavioral ridden students are a reflection of a teacher and or administrator who, as an adult, has either lost control of the classroom and student(s) or have lost respect within the education situation.

As I have often said, and as Dr. Perry spelled out, it is a near impossibility to have a child for 6 to 7 hours per day and claim the child can't learn. This can be a sign of inadequate teaching methods and techniques and the question is how can any professional expect to be rewarded for under performance? For obvious reasons, this is the argument that some Peoria teachers don't want to hear. For some of them, failure is the fault of the student and family. The quality and character of the child and family is called into question as opposed to the methodology of the teaching professional.

As Dr. Perry correctly points out, the fact is that the teacher is the artist or architect, and the student is the canvass and raw material. If the teacher can't shape it, there must be consideration given to the fact that  the teacher may not either know how to do the job or simply just may not be doing their job for whatever reason.

The Process

Dr. Perry explained that parents should familiarize themselves with the process of both teacher and school change. As his school is a public school, he mentioned that whatever structure of school that is given to results should be embraced and if there is a failure it should be scrapped.

Example, he challenged teachers who did not want schools to close due to poor performance, to consider if they would place their very own young children or family members at those same schools. Obviously the point is that if one can't see themselves in a "failing" district or school, then how can they with good conscience rally for other children and families to be subject to failure?

I've Long Been Offended 

Some individuals complained that Dr. Perry's presentation was mixed with occasional and light profanity. The word "damn" or "hell" was inserted in a very sparse manner. In addition, there was criticism because he used the word "homie"...OK...Nonetheless, Dr. Perry's "cussin'" seems to have caught the most critical attention.

Let's contrast that to some other positions that we have raised over time that seems to have caught little attention at all...

Although, I agree that cursing as a manner of communication in public discourse should be discouraged, I have long been equally offended by what this District has allowed in the name of Peoria Education. For quite some time, (certainly before current administration) without "cussin'" I and we have stood up questioning the minority suspension rate in District 150 Schools, to which no prior education professional seemed to have been concerned about. In fact suspension in the minds of many are yet justified based on many of the attitudes and issues I have outlined in this article.

We have also stood against the previous inadequate school lunch program (which we hope has been changed for the better). Only cafeteria personnel were willing to stand with us in this fight because they viewed the quality of the food as being substandard and were offended that they had to serve it to students that they cared for as well.

Professional Dress Code

Now, shall we make observation of the Districts professional standards dress code???

Wait a minute...there is NO professional standards dress code as a matter of the UNION contract.  
As offensive as profanity  may be, as a parent I have often been offended at the lack of an enforceable dress code for teachers under union contract. Any given day you will notice teachers in attire that some 20 years ago would be considered totally inappropriate for the classroom. Such attire includes tight jeans, low cut blouses, short mini skirts, fishnet stockings and even what amounts to be "party attire" during the normal course of the school session. In some cases teachers are almost indistinguishable in dress from students.

Guess who protects this ability for the education professional to "come as you are"? Yes, you have it, the UNION! There is no professional standard of dress. As one who has been in the schools often, trust me, one needs to be set in place.  However, not even a principal, the top administrator in their building, can call their colleague into question on this issue at least with much success or without union grievances.  
Tell me, how does union protection in the dress code, support the message of adult authority, professionalism and or assist student achievement or success? How is the current dress policy, made under union constraints, a benefit to taking control of the classroom and the educational process? Does allowing teachers the opportunity to "look like their students" and not be accountable for dress policies to school administration help the educational process? Is it not offensive for a teacher to parade in front of hormonal boys (and some hormonal co-workers and parents) as if they have to answer to no one for their choices? No, this is a policy (or lack thereof) that does NOT serve the successful education of our students in any manner.

Then I find it hard to believe that sparse "cussin'" is really an issue. I think "change" simply may be the real issue.


As I bring this post to a close, I couldn't help but deal with a few criticism leveled by those who certainly weren't "in the know" regarding Dr. Steve Perry and his visit to Peoria.
"Charter School"
Another criticism of Dr. Perry was that he was a "Charter School" Principal. I guess that the perception is that being a "Charter School" is a gimmick to student success. The fact is that Dr. Perry's school is a PUBLIC School, (a Magnet school to be exact) funded with public school funds similar to every and all District 150 schools. Only he is given the authority to run his building as the head of the facility. He evaluates his staff for their performance and maintains the ability to petition for the services and teachers that make the students educational process a success. With numbers that are top in the nation, and a growing trail of students who are college ready, and engaging the educational process at the next level successfully, no one can dispute or argue with Dr. Perry's methods or results.
In other words Dr. Perry simply does the job that he is employed to do and students and families are benefited in the process!

"Dr. Lathan Merely Wanted To Affirm Her Methods"

Finally, I (Pastor Harvey Burnett) was personally able to connect with Dr. Perry and his staff and facilitate the necessary conversations to make this event a reality. The idea to have him as speaker did not begin with Dr. Lathan, but was certainly embraced by her and her staff in the utmost, professional manner for the BENEFITS that Dr. Perry affords both staff, students and parents as one of the country's most renown educators and education personalities.

We are proud of District 150 staff and personnel for the work they did in embracing this historic event and getting this job done.

As a PARENT, I know that the education of our children is of vital and uncompromising importance. We have seen that the State of Illinois, and various political figures, have no conscience when it comes to educational cuts and the status of our communities.

As Mayor Ardis said, we should place more dollars and resources on the educational side of our children's lives, to prevent potential problems that occur due to lack of education and the lack of opportunity that comes along with it. Our honorable Mayor and I have respectfully disagreed on some issues in times past, but this is one area in which we have total agreement.

What we do for the benefit of our children will have valuable results for the future of our communities and we're on board 100%!
Next District 150 Parent University: Sept. 27th 2012 Glen Oak Grade School, Wisconsin Ave. 6:00PM.

Pastor H. Burnett
Director Peoria Assn. Of Pastors.