School Climate and Expectation

True North is devoted to improving our community and lifting up the human dignity of all people in this region, True North has a particular concern with the safety, and improving the school climate, wellbeing and advancement of all students in our public schools. The recent massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the response from its survivors with their incredible resiliency and lucid power has both caused us grief and inspired us. The power of communities coming together to change the national narrative on school safety, mental health and guns is on full display for all to see, and to emulate if we choose to do so.

Grieving the murder of their friends and teachers, and with some still recovering from gunshot wounds themselves, survivors of this school shooting have organized. Young people have forced politicians to listen to their stories and hear their demands. Students in Parkland recognize their own dignity and humanity, and they have high expectations of their elected leaders. They’re stating in a clear and unwavering voice that their leaders are accountable to them, even in the midst of their pain.

This begs the question - what kind of expectations do we have for our leaders on the North Coast?

Communities and our leaders have a responsibility to ensure a safe and nurturing school climate for our students. It’s our responsibility to ensure that we are not fostering a climate that would allow a student to slip so far between the cracks in the system, and to become so alienated from his community, that he would bring lethal weapons into a school and end nearly a dozen and a half lives. In addition to holding our elected and school officials accountable, community members must be actively involved in crafting and implementing solutions that create a safe and healthy school climate for our children.

Let’s be honest and clear about something. There are obvious differences between the majority of Parkland’s students and the majority of ours. Parkland’s suburban demographics show high percentages of affluent, white-collar professionals with college degrees. Children growing up in Parkland can reap the benefits of society that are, in many cases, difficult to come by for children growing up here on the North Coast. However, the barriers and challenges that we experience as a less-than-wealthy, rural community are not insurmountable.

Regardless of how difficult it may be, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our public schools facilitate positive growth through effective family engagement, counselling, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) and Restorative Justice, while teaching and modeling healthy social skills for students. It is also our responsibility to ensure that schools have the support and resources to do so. If we truly value students, their education and the future of our community, we will be able to find the resources needed to make positive school climates happen in our region.

Many factors are open for consideration in the Parkland shooting, not all of which we can address here. A national culture of violence and retaliation, easy access to semi-automatic firearms, inadequate mental health care and toxic individualism all play a role in this epidemic of school shootings. What stands out to us here and now, though, is the obvious shift in the dynamic that powerful, grassroots community involvement has brought on in Parkland.

Those closest to the pain have taken on the challenge of holding those in power accountable for this tragedy and how to prevent others in the future. We can do the same by following their lead.