Restoration instead of incarceration


Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board Member, District 7

ST. PETERSBURG — Last year a community meeting was held at Bethel Community Church to address issues surrounding suspension rates and discipline disparities within the Pinellas County School District. Well attended, this forum brought about a number of positive solutions and a few resolutions.

One component that was spoken of at this event was that of the creation or addition of Restorative Justice Practices as a guiding focus when it comes to the manner in which discipline is addressed in our schools. While Area Superintendents Pat Wright, Ward Kennedy, Robert Poth and I attended a number of trainings on this subject matter, we all realized that in order to really have the district gain a true understanding of the infusion, implementation and commitment to this practice, we needed more hands on deck.

The clarion call went out and a number of individuals responded. One such tentacle was that of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, Inc. Under the leadership of their President/CEO Dr. Sandra Braham, COO Terri Balliet, COO Ann Marie Winter and Grant Writer Patsy Stills, Gulf Coast applied for a grant through the Healthy Initiative Collaborative (funded through the giving arm of Bayfront Health Center). Partners in this initiative were the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, the City of St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas County Schools Police Department.

The goal of this collaborative was to train the School Resource Officers (SRO) in the use of Restorative Justice Practices. The instructional methodologies will be taught by Mara Schiff, consultant with PeaceWorks Inc.

Schiff is known for her work over the years in this area with schools and communities. She has been tapped to provide such trainings on a national level by the Department of Education out of Washington, D.C. Others and myself from the district attended this training in Atlanta. What an eye opening experience for all who attended.

In addition to Restorative Justice training, the SRO’s will also receive implicit bias training from Captain Raimondo (a facilitator with Fair and Impartial Policing) and motivational interviewing techniques/trauma informed care/ and adolescent interventions from Nicole Guincho, a licensed mental health clinician.

I believe that this is a truly a step in the right direction as it relates to looking at issues that our students, families and staff face from a different set of eyes.

In addition, but not a part of this week long effort, principals, vice principals, members from the PCS leadership team, representatives from PCTA-PESPA and representatives from the community, attended a Restorative Justice Training starting that started on Tuesday and will end on Friday.

Attendees noted as “Train the Trainers” will be trained on how to train additional staff, implement, maintain and grow the practice throughout the district.

This is not an easy road to travel; however, I am committed to staying the course. In order to assure that our students, teachers, parents and staff are successful we must continue to work from a position of strength, the strength we find in each other to just do what is right for those we call our future.

These are the comments of Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board Member District 7 and not the comments of Pinellas County Schools administration nor the Pinellas County School Board

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