Testimony of Daun Kauffman to the BOE, November 21, 2019

Action Items # 2 and3, about a “program” to address trauma,  are void of Urgency and Fidelity: Lack of urgency and fidelity in addressing childhood trauma is immoral. We have the knowledge to do much better. We are accountable.

I live in the epi-center of traumatic stress responses: Hunting Park, a “warzone”. Like my neighbor children, I have witnessed school kids scrambling under cars shooting at rival drug teams. I’ve experienced bullets thru my front window. Two times. I have been robbed. Four times. I have walked into police tape across my home and car with bullet casing “tents” in the street. I’ve sat straight up in bed, heart-racing, awoken by gun battles in the night. I’ve been assaulted in the park with a heavy slab of rock slammed into my skull. I have experienced the squalor, danger and hopelessness of the environment, day-in, day-out.

Those are only freeze frames of our daily life. I have over twenty traumatic experiences (which my brain can recall). Some on the job. Full Disclosure: I’m a district teacher too.  And I have PTSD. Like many of my neighbors. And our children.

North Philadelphia’s children suffer 4+ adverse experiences (ACEs) at rates over 45% (Philadelphia Urban ACE Survey). The massive scope is crushing.

The depth, or the power, of chronic toxic stress then changes the architecture of child’s physical brain. To repeat: a child’s undeveloped, physical brain changes (CDC). When they’re ignored, the changes cascade into PTSD. They’re often ignored or misunderstood, misdiagnosed and can then lead to early death by twenty years (CDC).

Scores on standardized tests are trivial compared to early death. Where is Urgency?

Aside from the grants in these Items, what is our compliance with the specifics of PA TIS Act 18? Have we completed the Readiness Survey in the State’s wonderful Guide to planning for TIS? Where is Urgency?

Where is Urgency?
How can we speed up the District Plan’s call for SAP Certification in 3 years? The Planning Team defined in Act 18 requires SAP Certification as the gateway to State Grants. There are even State Grants to do the planning itself.

The research data (100s of peer-reviewed papers) is clear: trauma responses mute cognition, in direct conflict with school’s missions. We are condemned to futility without trauma-informed schools (TIS).

Trauma impacts all aspects, all goals. I list only 15 — Academic achievement, Achievement “gap”, Perceived safety, Personal behaviors, Social relationships, School design, Student attendance, Staff attendance, Job satisfaction, Staff turnover, Hard-to-staff schools, Budget priorities, Budget effectiveness, Program effectiveness and Equity or equal access.

Meanwhile, ten to twenty years have elapsed, while the experts have called for dramatic change. I list 15 groups of experts citing “epidemic” and “crisis” — The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Centers for Disease Control, United States Department of Justice, United States Surgeon Generals, California Surgeon General, United States Department of Health & Human Services, Pennsylvania Department Education, The American Psychological Association, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The American Psychiatric Association, The American Heart Association, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, The Harvard Center on the Developing Child, NEA, SAMHSA, And many, more.

Fidelity starts with explicit, clear definitions. Yet, only last week, Dr. McGinley questioned the possibility of multiple TIS vendors, each having their own definition of TIS. None of us can confidently assess their ambiguous proposals. Multiple definitions allow for miscommunication, mismeasurement and misleading test results and then more delays (back to Urgency…), possibly even killing the TIS concept in the confusion.

Conceptually TIS is a paradigm shift, a dramatic, new paradigm, it’s NOT a “program” or an “add-on”. It’s a new way of being. A new culture. Implementation-research says that successful culture change begins with Committed Leadership and a school-wide vision, viewed as another “program, it will fail.

Priorities change in TIS.

Dr. Sandra L.Bloom, an internationally recognized expert on trauma theory, equates the magnitude of the 21st century shift to a trauma-informed paradigm to the 20th century shift after scientists developed Germ Theory. It’s a radical leap in understanding. After we are informed, Bloom’s corollary is “it’s morally impossible to remain ethically neutral”.

Old tools may still be useable, but not in the old ways. For example, the MTSS triangle, when trauma-informed and student centered may become inverted in environments, like urban Philadelphia. In direct contrast, the SDP “organization-centered” Plan calls for an arbitrary (5%) reduction in Tier III children, every year!? That’s symptomatic of an organization-centered goal, the antithesis of trauma-informed. District Planning documents are filled with inward-looking “factory standards”, Common Core, standardized tests, standardized timing and universal measurement, the antithesis of TIS and equity for all. “Standardized”, or equal, directly prohibits equity…

Meanwhile, in Bloom’s language, our delayed shift to TIS from our current organization-centered “factory”, or “Business-approach”, with human lives, is ethically immoral.

The next full disclosure: I’ve built and led big businesses (also for 2 decades). Some at Campbell’s and some at Marvel. I understand business paradigms. Very well.

I have an MBA. From Harvard Business School.

I know that inward, organization-centered plans lose in the marketplace. Every.Time. The consumer MUST be first, and the consumer must be centered. We are talking about basic MaslowTiers.

Please don’t tell us that TIS changes are a “budget issue”. I used budgets too. Budgets are tools, not masters. TIS issues are a priority issue. District documents describe over a billion dollars, with a “B”, reserved for central office budgets? Yet some still cry “We don’t have money”. No, the truth is that they have other priorities for that money than trauma-impacted children and staff.

Fidelity of concepts and the definitions for “safety”, for “screening”, “training” and “support” including “Reflective Supervision”, for BOTH students AND staff, must be understood deeply and invested in on-going. The trauma is on-going. TIS is not a PD day and “self-care”.

Screening is key. Trauma responses are contrasted as “Fight, flight, and freeze”. In the heat of the classroom, the Fight or “hyper-aggressive” response of the girl throwing a chair is often the focus, while we completely miss the girl in the back corner, freezing in “Dissociation”. The girls are each dealing with trauma, with equal pain and equal fear, in very divergent, classical behaviors. The research says that among younger children compliant “Dissociation” is the leading trauma response, but that common behavioral response slips past our support, too easy to miss, with no screening.

Fidelity of Classroom Environment: to simplify SDP defines and cites strategies to use with a child who becomes “triggered” in the classroom. What that obliviously ignores is the rest of the classroom, the group of 30+ other children. The data is clear: in a classroom of 30 children in Philadelphia, 10 to 15 children (30% to 50%) will be seriously impacted by trauma. It is dangerously un-informed to simplify the emotional labor, required daily, of front-line teachers to examples of single-child strategies.
Meanwhile, the data says that 1,500 to 2,000 teachers are dealing with their own trauma from childhood. On-going supports are required for the front-line across the board. Reflective Supervision would be a start.

Someone must say that with respect to TIS in SDP: “The Emperor has no clothes”.

Back to URGENCY:

Philadelphia’s “business” paradigm is failing its children (not the front-line schools).

Research data, Federal and State mandates and Expert warnings are in place, many for 10-20 years. Yet, in Philadelphia there will still be no help tomorrow. No help next week. No help this year. No help next year!

This SDP “program” reports no status. No clear measurement or evaluation plan. The test is authorized to languish through 2022! A.five.year.test ? What are we doing?
Front line staff needs help tomorrow. We are exposing children and staff daily to each other’s trauma, without ready supports. We are losing Children. We are losing staff…. Every.day.we.“wait”.

If we don’t lose the teacher physically, we lose them emotionally and motivationally to a sense of frustration, discouragement and failure. It’s not them failing, it’s the failing paradigm.

That is why I question accepting more grants, costing more time, and passing off district accountability for fidelity of our Trauma-Informed Schools onto these “vendors”… until “some day” in 2022.

Instead, acknowledge your moral obligation to fellow human beings for Urgency and Fidelity. Take the money, but don’t stop there. Admit accountability. ADD SDP money. NOW. Make it authentic with Fidelity. Then expand it. NOW. It’s Urgent.

Meanwhile, as per the SDP Mission, we are trying to make “graduates”, with equity, in a standardizing “factory”.

Be sure: There is no equity while TIS is absent, while trauma is not addressed explicitly, universally, with Fidelity.

It is an ‘opportunity’ for you, for the organization, but for we human residents, neighbors, friends and staff, It is our lives. Where is Urgency?