Judge Corpening on Involving Agencies, Organizations, and Stakeholders

As part of the expert blog series, Judge Corpening has responded to additional questions from readers and visitors to the Supportive School Discipline website regarding the School Discipline and Juvenile Justice reform efforts in North Carolina. 

Question from Reader/Visitor: What were all of the agencies, organizations and stakeholder groups invovled in the development of the inter-agency agreement? 

The foundation of the success we have achieved in New Hanover County, North Carolina was the composition of the working group we convened to develop a memorandum of understanding to address the School-to-Prison Pipeline.  My Superintendent of Schools and I spent a considerable amount of time discussing the makeup of our team.  We recognized that the team needed to have significant representation from schools, law enforcement, and courts, but we also recognized that we needed representation from other disciplines.  We actually agreed on “categories” or “disciplines” that needed to be represented before we discussed individual names.  We also agreed that in some circumstances it might be better to ask an agency head (decision maker) to send a specific senior assistant who might have more “boots on the ground” experience and have more to offer in a working group like ours.

            Here’s what our group looked like:

  1. New Hanover County Schools
    1. Superintendent
    2. Deputy Superintendent
    3. Chair, Board of Education
    4. School Safety Officer
    5. Student Support Services Supervisor
    6. Behavioral Specialist
    7. High School Principal
  2. Courts:
    1. Chief District Court Judge (Convener)
    2. Elected District Attorney
    3. Chief Public Defender
    4. Chief Court Counselor (Juvenile Probation Office-under 16 in North Carolina)
    5. Chief of Community Corrections (Adult Probation/Parole)
  3. Law Enforcement:
    1. New Hanover County Sheriff
    2. School Resource Officer Supervisor for New Hanover County
    3. Wilmington Police Chief
    4. Wrightsville Beach Police Chief (supports an elementary school on the beach)
    5. Carolina Beach Police Chief (supports an elementary school on the beach)
  4. County Government:
    1. Director of Community Justice Services (county agency that delivers services to adjudicated youth)
  5. Mental Health:
    1. System of Care Coordinator for our Local Management Entity
  6. Department of Social Services
    1. Assistant Director of Social Work
  7. Community:
    1. Pastor
    2. Civic Organization Leader
    3. Professor of Education at UNCW Watson College of Education
    4. Parents                   

            Our discussion about the composition of our working group essentially evolved around three questions.  I’ve discussed the “Who do we invite” question above.  Once we assembled our group and began our discussions, it was important to ask the “Who are we missing” question.  We were an hour into our initial meeting when we realized there we were missing someone important.  It is important to be flexible and add to your group if the process dictates a need.  At the conclusion of our process we asked the “Who should we have included” question.  What barriers did we encounter as we moved towards signing and implementation that could have been avoided?  Here’s my list and my reasons for inclusion if I had it to do all over again:

  1. Representation from the County and City Manager’s Office.  Although we had a representative from county government, it was not a policy making position.  As it turned out, our County Commissioners and City Council wanted to partner with us as we wrapped up our process.  The Commissioners joined as a party to the agreement, and the Council entered a resolution of support.  The Commissioners agreed to expend about $400,000 a year in supporting prevention work for at-risk youth in our schools, doubling the impact of an existing program.  This happened at the same meeting as they agreed to join as a signing partner.  I believe our work in developing our agreement helped inspire serious discussions by the county.  The city is now considering what it can do to support our efforts.  Including key leadership from both manager’s offices could have accelerated these efforts.
  2. An elementary and middle school principal.  Most of the resistance that school leadership faced came from principals and was based on a general lack of understanding of the agreement and its specific impact on schools.  Although the Superintendent and I took steps to help alleviate their concerns, I believe it would have helped to add these two positions to the high school principal that was a member of our working group.
  3. Board of Education Attorney.  When it came down to getting approval from legal for the school leadership to sign, we encountered significant pushback, again based on a lack of understanding of the purpose of the agreement and the discussions that led to the draft we submitted to the Board attorney.  Once we spent time in small group meetings with the Board attorney we were able to work through his concerns.  He also made valuable contributions to the agreement concerning legal issues that we had not addressed.  It would have been helpful to have him on board from the beginning.
  4. Representative from local NAACP.  I kept our local NAACP updated as we worked through our process, and the organization gave us strong support.  In general, I think it is a better idea to include a representative from the start of the project.

Every community is different, and each team that has undertaken a project like this around the country has some variation from others.  My superintendent and I spent a considerable amount of time discussing the composition of our team, and we also looked at the composition of other teams that had undertaken this work.  This process has to work in your community, and the development of the working team must be undertaken with care.  It is important to remember that although the team must be multi-disciplinary, and have strong roots in education, law enforcement, and courts, the team cannot become so large that it is not an effective working group.

To view Judge Corpening's expert blog series in its entirety click here: NCSSD Blog Interview with Judge J. H. Corpening: Inter-Agency Governance Agreements and Addressing The School-to-Prison Pipeline