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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

10 Years after SuccessTech, CMSD Focused on Emotional Well-being

The Cleveland High School for the Digital Arts is housed in the former SuccessTech Academy building. SuccessTech shut its doors in 2017.  [Photo: CMSD]
The Cleveland High School for the Digital Arts is housed in the former SuccessTech Academy building. SuccessTech shut its doors in 2017. [Photo: CMSD]

On Oct. 10, 2007, 14-year-old Asa Coon walked through his downtown Cleveland high school with a revolver in each hand. Coon, who, according to reports at the time, had been suspended from school for fighting, shot two fellow students and two teachers before taking his own life.

The incident 10 years ago sparked some major changes for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. It started with increased security measures, placing metal detectors, cameras, and security guards in the district’s more than 100 buildings.

“They put a strong effort into a lot of the physical security equipment,” Ken Trump, a Cleveland-based school security consultant, said he recalled efforts following SuccessTech.

The hardware in Cleveland schools has become standard in a large number of school districts across the country, Trump said, but hasn’t put an end to incidences of violence.

Trump has worked as an expert witness on some of the highest profile school shooting lawsuits in the nation and said the focus on security efforts often fades.

“We’re a roller coaster society: roller coaster public awareness, public policy, and public funding,” Trump said. “We react when there’s a high profile incident in our community, in the national news, or in the front of our brains and then two or three years later, as the budgets go down, those resources get cut back.”

He said as funding for security levels off or even drops in some school districts, outdated systems can create a false sense of security in schools.

But physical security measures aren’t the only ways to prevent incidents like the SuccessTech shooting, Trump said.

“The first and best line of defense is always a well-versed staff and student body,” he added.

CMSD has taken on that aspect of prevention through a multi-faceted program called Humanware. It includes curriculum for young students to learn social and emotional skills in the classroom.

Humanware includes bullying prevention measures like seminars for administrators on the issue, it has increased access to mental health resources in schools, and houses the district’s rapid response efforts, teaming educators with first responders to provide resources to a school after a traumatic incident, like a student’s death.

But the aspect of the program that has received the most attention from other school districts and even international organizations like the Aspen Institute is the district planning centers.

The planning centers have replaced in-school suspensions across the district. Located in the schools themselves, the centers allow students to access emotional support, mental health, and academic resources.

“In that room there’s a trained parent-professional that works with them to build a plan and learn skills to deal with the situations they face in the classroom or community,” Director of Humanware Denine Goolsby said.

Many students are sent to these planning centers, Goolsby said, but they can also self-refer if they feel like they need additional support on any given day.

With all of its pieces, Goolsby said Humanware has one central purpose- to build trusting relationships between students and educators. The district measures that level of trust through regular student surveys called the Conditions for Learning Survey which focuses on whether students feel safe in their schools.

“We see that the climates in our schools have changed over this past 10 years and now Humanware is a piece that a lot of people are speaking [about],” Goolsby said. “They know that it exists and they recognize the importance of the program.”

The relationship piece is essential, according to Trump. You don’t find out about plots to attack a school from a metal detector, Trump said, but from a student that has a trusting relationship with an adult.

“Often times as adults in schools we think that we know and that we’re running the school, but actually the students are running the school,” Goolsby added, “and we need them to be with us as we move through this journey.”