The go-to place for programs to combat bullying in schools

Mary Jo Kaska, new programming director Hope for Peace and Justice, says the organization will focus on private schools

Kaska1

Mary Jo Kaska

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Mary Jo Kaska, the new director of programming for Hope for Peace and Justice, hopes her organization becomes the go-to place for help in establishing anti-bullying policies, especially for private schools in Texas.

Right now, the biggest program at Hope for Peace and Justice is its Safe Schools Project.

“We’ve taken the stand that all school districts need enumerated categories,” she said. “The addition of those enumerated categories spells out for young people that the kind of bullying they’ve seen in their schools frequently is no longer tolerated.”

Kaska said that Hope for Peace and Justice is creating its own standard for an anti-bullying program that is research-based, comparing the rollout of this policy to the way Nolan High School, where she taught, introduced its harassment policy.

“We developed a code,” she said. “We talked to boys and girls separately — straight on — explaining what harassment was, [how] what they did before was harassment and won’t be tolerated.”

She said a successful policy sets out who to go to and what happens when the rules are violated.

When that happens, she said, “suddenly a bell goes off before a student does something. It’s an educational process. You’re creating a safe climate, a safe culture.”

The regulations articulate a set of values and a policy, she said.

While H4PJ would be happy to work with public schools that need assistance, Kaska said the organization’s focus is on private schools. Despite the law passed in this year’s session of the Texas Legislature, she said many private schools feel exempt because they don’t receive public funding.

One step in making schools safer, she Kaska, is training teachers to intervene.

“What I like about the Texas law is that it requires the whole program to be on the district website,” she said.

Posting the policy she said is important for private schools too.

Once criteria are finalized, Kaska said H4PJ will be contacting private schools throughout the Dallas area first and then throughout the state. Its consulting services will be available to schools for free, and paid for by H4PJ contributors.

“Then our website will be one-stop shopping for the best anti-bullying resources,” Kaska said.

“Private schools are already doing so many things right,” she said, but added that some simple changes will help make schools a little bit safer.

“We want schools to be able to promote their success stories,” Kaska said. “Upload videos showing things that are working. Foster student leadership and participation in developing a respectful and welcoming school environment.”

Kaska was hired after group founder and president Michael Piazza moved to Atlanta earlier this year. She said that although her organization is based at Cathedral of Hope, it is incorporated as a separate non-profit organization.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Linus Wright proposes eliminating 12th grade

Linus Wright

Now that the election is over and the campaign ads from the current governor talking about the solid state of the Texas economy are a distant memory, the Legislature is having to deal with reality — huge deficits.

Former Dallas Independent School District superintendent Linus Wright, who helped destroy DISD in the 1980s, made a budget-cutting proposal — eliminate 12th grade.

Makes sense. Has lots of upside.

If most dropouts occur in the 12th grade, eliminate 12th grade. With the stroke of a pen, save millions of dollars and cut the Texas dropout rate in half.

Never mind that colleges don’t accept students who’ve only graduated from 11th grade. But maybe college is a waste of time to Wright and his ilk as well.

—  David Taffet