Podcast: Providing Safety at Milwaukee Public Schools

Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

Guest Biography
Maria Navone is a Safety Assistant and Lead Instructor with over 20 years of experience working at MPS. Maria is a certified Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Meritorious Instructor who has been training her coworkers in CPI programs since 1998. She’s been the Lead Instructor at MPS for the past 10 years.

Maria has trained nearly 3,000 staff members in foundational crisis intervention techniques and tailored strategies for enhancing verbal skills, working with kids on the autism spectrum, and handling particularly violent physical behavior. As Safety Assistant, Maria is the lead gang investigator for the district and conducts interventions and promotes gang awareness amongst school staff, parents, law enforcement, and the community. Maria is also closely involved with bullying prevention, including cyberbullying, and she promotes knowledge about prevention strategies to her staff.

Her credentials are outstanding, but her ability to tell a gripping story with insight and passion is what makes listening to this interview an absolute joy. Check it out to hear in-depth stories about confronting—and dramatically de-escalating—acting-out behavior in deeply troubled students.

Podcast Highlights
Here are a few of the highlights from my conversation with Maria.

On convincing administrators to commit to crisis prevention training (11:35)
(Administrators recognize the training is effective) especially when they attend themselves, because I have a lot of principals that, unfortunately, sometimes are reluctant to send staff because it is a two-day training, and I do understand that it requires some commitment on their part having staff out of the building. But what I try to tell them is the more staff you have trained, the more comfortable and confident they’re going to be in handling situations and the less administrative work that you have to do, really.

Because if they’re handling their situations in the classroom, maintaining that classroom management control aspect of it, there are less referrals that are being written, the less disciplinary problems that you’re dealing with. And so now that they’re starting to attend the classes themselves, they’re starting to see more about what it is we’ve been trying to tell them for quite some time.

On setting limits with students (37:04)
I notice that when people are very upset at (a) particular time, the more limits you put on them, the more they want to act out. So I let them act out. I would rather you verbally act out and release all that ugliness than me have to put my hands on you because you’re trying to physically attack me. I’ve got all day as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to intervention, I can talk my way out of any situation because I’ve got all day. But when you make the decision to put your hands on someone, you take it to a whole other level that you have no control over. Literally, sometimes you really don’t have control because accidents can happen in the blink of an eye.

An example of a student Maria is called to work with (38:48)
Here’s a young man who is 10 years old. He just moved from Chicago. He has a very young mother. Unfortunately, when he was seven years old, he witnessed someone being shot in the face point-blank. He was involved in the commission of a crime. He was in the car as a crime took place. He was also sexually molested by two of his mother’s boyfriends. Not only was he sexually molested, he was given two sexually transmitted diseases.

That’s just the tip of that little iceberg. And he was so angry because first of all let me just describe for you a tiny little, cute little boy whose clothes—he looks like he’s literally waiting for the next flood. His pants are so high; his shoes are so small; his toes literally look like they’re coming out of his shoes. His sleeves on his shirt, which was supposed to be a long-sleeve shirt, were now three-quarter length. He’s telling us that when he was selling weed, when he was selling drugs, everybody wanted to be involved with him and everybody wanted to do things for him and take him places.

He said, “And that social worker—” What did he call her? I want to say, “The counselor keeps telling me I’m a little boy. I need to act like I’m a little boy. So I decided that I’m going to stop selling weed.” This is this child talking. “Now that I’m not selling weed no more, nobody wants anything to do with me. Nobody cares about me. Nobody takes me anywhere. My only mom, I haven’t heard from her. You see these clothes I have on my back? I bought these clothes. You know what my mama has done for me? Nothing. Nothing.” This is him talking to us.

On a takeaway for the interview (1:04:30)
Well, I guess I want staff to come away with the hope, to have faith that if they set these goals for themselves, if your goal is to train an entire school or an entire side of town or district or whatever your goal is for your training, stick to it. Don’t give up, because it’s just so much easier to say, “Oh, it’s an uphill battle and I’m not getting any response.” If that was the case, I would’ve stopped 10 years ago and CPI, in my honest opinion, would’ve been done and over with in MPS, because there was nobody advocating for the program. I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything like that.

Just it took a lot of persuasion, a lot of persistence, a lot of I didn’t accept no for an answer. Every time they came at me with an excuse not to train, I came up with an example of why you should. For example, “Well, I’ve had umpteen staff get injured this year. I’ve had umpteen students get injured this year.” “Well, why don’t you send them to my class? Let’s work on some strategies. Let’s work on getting them certified. Let’s work on that de-escalation part of it. And tell me in six months. Give me six months and let me know is it working? Is there a decrease?” And when they come back and say, “You know what? Yes. We see it.”

Schedule a Consultation