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Clayton schools, juvenile court agree on positive engagement

Officials with Clayton County Juvenile Court and Clayton County Public Schools signed an inter-agency agreement this week on how to handle school offenses. Pictured are, seated from left, Teaching and Learning Executive Director Tamera Foley and Chief Judge Steven Teske, standing from left, Schools Superintendent Luvenia Jackson, School Police Maj. Alan Parker, School Police Chief Clarence Cox III, School Police Maj. Chandi Ashmore, Judge Deitra Burney-Butler and Judge Bobby Simmons. (Special Photo)

Officials with Clayton County Juvenile Court and Clayton County Public Schools signed an inter-agency agreement this week on how to handle school offenses. Pictured are, seated from left, Teaching and Learning Executive Director Tamera Foley and Chief Judge Steven Teske, standing from left, Schools Superintendent Luvenia Jackson, School Police Maj. Alan Parker, School Police Chief Clarence Cox III, School Police Maj. Chandi Ashmore, Judge Deitra Burney-Butler and Judge Bobby Simmons. (Special Photo)

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Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, also a former county police chief, threw his support behind the public schools and juvenile court partnership this week. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

JONESBORO — Officials are renewing efforts of positive engagement as a means to develop potentially troubled youth into successful students in Clayton County Public Schools.

The district entered into an inter-agency governance agreement with Clayton County Juvenile Court this week on how the two agencies will handle school offenses.

Superintendent Luvenia Jackson said the partnership has been developing for several years. But this week’s agreement came about when the district created its own police department.

Jackson said that, for nearly two decades, school policing duties were contracted through local law enforcement.

She said the county’s sheriff’s office provided deputies as school resource officers this past year. Last winter, however, Sheriff Victor Hill indicated his office would not continue providing deputies once the contract ended this summer.

In April, the school board agreed with Jackson’s recommendation to establish its own police force.

The superintendent hired Clarence Cox III in June to pick up where the sheriff left off, and Cox became the district’s first chief of police and director of safety and security.

Cox was joined by his staff Tuesday, following the signing ceremony.

The district’s police officers and juvenile court staff began training in a corner room of the Clayton County Youth Development and Justice Center, named after the superintendent. It is called the Luvenia Jackson Resource Room.

Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske led the ceremony speaking about the shift from “zero tolerance” school policing to the Positive Student Engagement Model for School Policing.

He calls the approach “The Model.” It emphasizes positive supports and interventions with students in order to minimize arrests and detentions in most minor school offenses.

“What happens on the weekend, those kids bring to school on Monday,” Teske said. “Kids are wired to do stupid things and we need very special training to deal with them.”

The district’s police force is being trained with Teske’s staff on how to implement the positive student engagement model when it comes to dealing with students accused of committing delinquent acts on campus.

“We want them in positive places, which are schools,” Teske said. “Detention centers are not positive places.”

Teske said the approach in practice has increased the level of trust between students and the people charged with helping protect them. He said it also encourages communications and aids in information-gathering by administrators and law enforcement.

Those cooperative relationships, he said, have yielded an 83 percent decline in school referrals to juvenile courts since 2004.

He expects the efforts will yield lower youth detention rates and higher graduation rates.

Teske said communities and agencies from around the country have expressed interest in following the partnership and the positive student engagement model.

“This is going to be a big example for the nation,” Jackson said. “So, we’ve got to get it right. So, we’re beginning with the school system and juvenile court.

“This is not a small feat that we have to accomplish,” she added. “We’re not suspending them out of school everyday for little things. You don’t go to the SROs and say, discipline my children.”

Jackson said students who commit lesser offenses will be dealt with accordingly and those who commit greater offenses will be treated on the level of their indiscretions.

“If you care about our children, you will demonstrate that. You will show it in your actions,” she said.

She said the partnership’s mission is to treat all of the district’s children as if “they’re your own.”

“We have 52,000 (students) — whatever that number is — they all belong to Luvenia Jackson,” she said.