How Elgin, Illinois Schools Lowered Staff Assaults by 90%

Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

Guest Biography

John Heiderscheidt currently serves as the director of school safety and culture for school district U-46, headquartered in Elgin, Illinois. His purpose is to facilitate, promote, and help maintain a safe, secure, and nurturing school learning environment that is flexible in meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of each student. John is a retired police officer, and serves as a juvenile officer and school resource officer. John has a bachelor's degree in psychology, and a master's degree in law enforcement and justice administration. He is a Master Level Certified Instructor for the Crisis Prevention Institute.

Host Note:

Elgin, Illinois is less than 50 miles from downtown Chicago, and one element of the urban environment that has creeped out from the Second City into the surrounding communities is gang culture. It became so prevalent in the suburban city that when John entered the school system there in 2009, he was struck by how prevalent gang culture, and its attendant violence, had become in the district and on the surrounding streets.

“What we were seeing and experiencing in our communities was a high level of fights in our high schools. All five high schools, even in our middle schools, there was an awful lot of physical aggression and fights happening. On our streets we were being riddled with gang incidents that were happening in our community. Gang incidents did include some very tragic deaths, and those deaths included our students, and these were happening on the streets, and those people that were causing that to happen were also our students,” says John.

During his first year on the job, a teacher suffered a student assault with a knife.

That’s when John realized that the district had not responded with policy initiatives aimed specifically at addressing how staff might manage disruptive or violent behavior.

In those early days, staff was required by law and school board policy to intervene in fights, and before CPI training, that meant jumping into the middle of fights to break them up. That policy led to multiple staff injuries, many work days missed, and more worker's comp claims.

CPI training comes to U-46

John was aware of CPI training from a previous position in a nearby community, Buffalo Grove, where all special ed and assistant teachers were required to attend CPI training every year.
John met other staff at U-46 who knew about CPI training, and he introduced the idea of bringing it into the district.

“We started to look at data, started to look at what was going on, started to look at our expulsion rates, started to look at how many kids were being arrested in schools, and finding out that we didn't have any real systems or process. We started taking a hard look at what was happening. That's what really led us to CPI, and managing our fights in our schools, and finding a different way to de-escalate behavior,” explains John.

So in 2009 the district committed to CPI training, and that’s when John became a Certified Instructor in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training. He also trained 35 new Certified Instructors during the year.

CPI training reduces staff assaults by 90% 

In the first year after implementing Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, student assaults on staff were reduced by 90%. (A figure cited by John in a TechValidate case study.)

That dramatic reduction is largely due to the way staff were trained to respond to students engaged in a fight. “We found at most times it’s [staff assaults] because we're jumping in the middle of fights and trying to break them up by ‘taking them down,’ and those are actually the words our staff would say. And I'm not being critical; I am not being critical of anybody. I'm saying those were the actual words we said,” explains John.

How U-46 reduced out-of-school suspensions by 74%

When John started with the district back in 2009, out-of-school suspensions were the norm.

According to John, this method of punishment lingered because of an outmoded concept of typical family life in suburbia. “Out-of-school suspensions were built on a model of a time in life when, 30 years ago, we may have had parents at home during the school day. We don't have that anymore,” says John.

So rather than being a punitive and, hopefully, corrective policy, a dearth of parental supervision during out-of-school suspensions turned them instead into an opportunity for students to soak up the influence of the street.

John explains the repercussions of the policy: “‘Let’s suspend them five days out of school; that will change them. Let's put them out 10 days.’ And so the philosophy of that is—where are we putting the kids? We're putting them on the streets, and when you put more kids on the streets, what you're really doing is allowing them more opportunity to get involved with gangs, get involved with drugs, get pregnant, get whatever.”

In-school suspensions, on the contrary, give students a quiet space to get back on track with their studies. In the day rooms where the suspensions are served, students are not allowed to put their heads down or engage with their personal mobile devices. Instead, they are encouraged to spend time on their school work.

When asked if and how CPI training figures into the drop in out-of-school suspensions, John remarked on how CPI provides a core approach to how staff respond to challenging situations.

“I think there's a link. There's other things obviously. There's PBIS—that’s a significant win for us. We're working really hard on community partners. But the substance of CPI, I believe and hopefully others understand this: that's your practice; this is your template. And all these other agencies and people will have different things they can bring to it, but you have your core of how we approach situations when they happen, how we view escalations and agitations, and how we move into those situations.”

Listen to the podcast for more great insights from John about how scenario-based training has improved staff ability to better recognize and respond to challenging behavior.

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