Peace Nix

How the Schools Conflict Resolution Office Got Mugged

Principals like Buckley are brimming with stories about how the RCCP curriculum creates a safe learning environment and reduces lunchroom free-for-alls. While the city has never studied the impact of conflict resolution programs on school violence, one study shows that RCCP improves students' academic performance and raises those all-important test scores. In a 1999 evaluation of RCCP, Dr. Lawrence Aber of Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty found that the more conflict resolution lessons students received the less aggressive behavior they exhibited and the higher they scored on standardized tests. "New York historically has been a leader in addressing children's emotional and social needs. So cutting the RCCP program flies in face of evidence," said Dr. Aber.

The end of the RCCP office has already affected programs in schools. "Normally, RCCP is chugging away by now," said Lorraine Jackson. "People would normally make schedules for us in October." Jackson worked in six Brooklyn school districts last year, training guidance counselors and family workers for RCCP. But now district administrators won't tell her how they plan to spend their RCCP funding. "If the districts don't start giving out the money by January, how will they be able to use it by June?" she asked. "They're going to take what they didn't spend and they are going to stick it in that Black Hole of Calcutta called their budget."

While Chancellor Klein didn't axe the RCCP office, his actions on violence prevention don't bode well, say supporters of conflict resolution strategies. If the office was cut to save money, how will Klein pay for more surveillance cameras and another 300 school security guards this spring? DOE spokesperson Feinberg said the cost of cameras for the selected high schools is being assessed. When asked the cost of cameras in a high school that already has them, Feinberg did not respond. But a spokesman for one company that provides school security cameras, Total Recall Corporation, said the cost of installing a closed circuit camera system in a typical high school could run from $25,000 to $500,000.

"You begin to wonder what people's understanding of conflict resolution is," said Arthur Foresta, head of the principal-mentoring program at New Visions for Public Schools and former principal of P.S. 261 in Brooklyn. "A lot of smart people at the education department don't seem to appreciate it. Maybe politically or in the public eye, coming on tough with a heavy hand has greater appeal."

Foresta has a point. Resorting to metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and guards quiets the clamor after a publicized incident at school. But the truth about school violence is more nuanced. Police statistics on school crimes released October 7, 2002, showed a 14 percent drop for the year in the six major crime categories—assault, robbery, rape, burglary, grand larceny, and homicide. And crime rates at the 10 highest-crime schools dropped by an average of 46 percent for the year. Among those schools are five—Tilden, Erasmus, Truman, South Shore, and Prospect Heights—that Klein has slated to get surveillance cameras. Why crime dropped there is a question Chancellor Klein should be asking.

Lorraine Jackson has some answers for Chancellor Klein. "Conflict resolution ought to be part of the curriculum in every school," she said. "Not cameras. They'll get torn down. Kids will put gum on them. Kids could fight on the corner, down the block from the school. It's not an issue of installing 5000 cameras. RCCP has been studied and it raises test scores. They're killing the goose that lays the gold egg."

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