Every parent wants to send their kids to a great school. But thousands of parents just pray their children come home in one piece. Without safety, a school can't be great.
In her first interview since taking over this area for Chicago Public Schools, the new Chief of Security spoke about how she's about a whole new way of keeping students safe.
Metal detectors, pat-downs and backpack searches. They're the first order of the day in many schools - not exactly the ritual of champions.
"Immediately when you see those metal detectors, it sets in your mind, oh my goodness, this is a place where they need metal detectors?" CPS Security Chief Jaine Chou said. "You know you're on guard suddenly."
Jadine Chou took over security for Chicago Public Schools in November. After six years at the Chicago Housing Authority, and a corporate background prior to that, Chou took on the position without law enforcement experience.
"What I and my team will bring to the table when it comes to safety, is how we look at involving communities, involving stakeholders," Chou said. "So in the past, it might have been that if two kids got into a fight, oh - you're suspended, or oh - this is a detention, whatever that is, what we're trying to do now is get to the root of that issue, what was that scuffle about?"
By the end of January this school year, 166 CPS students were expelled, compared to 290 last year. That's a 43 percent drop.
On suspensions, principals are being urged to have students serve them in school, so students in trouble don't miss class work, and a chance to work on what got them into trouble.
"There's a lot of practices I'm sure you've read about, peace circles, peer-to-peer intervention, those are the kind of things that we're trying to incorporate into this process," Chou said. "It's an ongoing effort and it's something we cannot give up on. If there is something that a neighborhood commander needs to be aware of, we are communicating that."
Something is happening.
Compared to last year, there was a 20 percent drop in serious infractions inside CPS schools, and a 23 percent drop in the number of students arrested.
"Back in the early 90s it was really rough in the schools, it's definitely better now," CPS security officer Dave Wagner said. "I think better security procedures, safe practices, you know."
The retired Chicago police sergeant works in the CPS Security Command Center, one of the most extensive school surveillance operations in the country. It's still manned 24-7.
Chou denied that cameras are replacing people to save money. On the contrary, she said relationships are key to her strategy.
"A kid who has a tip is not going to to be able to tell that tip to a camera," Chou said. "That kid is going to have to tell that tip to an adult that they trust."
Chou backs up her holistic approach with a realistic hotline to the cops. She just hopes to use it less and less.
"If we can get the groundswell of the students, of the families, of the community, ideally you can start weaning people off of the need for the hardcore tactics," Chou said. "I think across the country people are starting to see that law enforcement alone is not going to be enough."
"You cannot possibly put a police officer in every classroom," Chou concluded. "You can't put a security guard in every corner. It's just not feasible, and it's not conducive to a healthy environment for our kids."
Ms. Chou said you can't just yank all the metal detectors out of schools right away, but that is her ultimate goal.
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