April 2024, Fordham/NYC CSTAC Community Schools Spotlight:

Collaborative Leadership and the Community School:
John Adams High School’s Commitment to Restorative Practices

John Adams High School
photo: Chalkbeat

Located in Ozone Park, Queens, John Adams High School serves a diverse population of nearly 2,400 students, making it one of the largest high schools in the New York City metropolitan area. That also makes it one of the largest community schools in the city, and the school’s approach to the community school model has made its work with partner organization Global Kids an excellent example of collaborative leadership.

The collaboration between Assistant Principal Scott Silverman, who has pioneered John Adams’ work in the areas of social-emotional learning and restorative practices, and Kassie Davis, the community school director who assigns staff members to help advance this work, demonstrates how the community school model can support and enhance a school’s vision and mission. 

“As an Assistant Principal my first task was to create a vision for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, including Restorative Practices,” says AP Silverman. 

“To do this one must have a strong understanding of what restorative practice is and what this approach will look like in the school setting. In addition, effective communication on how restorative practices align with current school initiatives (e.g., social and emotional learning and PBIS) was developed. Next, teacher professional development and ongoing learning was implemented to support the success of restorative practices. Initial training sessions for staff addressed the aspects mentioned previously regarding why change is needed and establishing staff buy-in early in the reform process. After initial training was conducted via department, team and committee meetings, inter visitations and modeled practices were conducted.”

“In my role as Community School Director at John Adams High School,” says Davis, “I have been instrumental in implementing restorative practices to build a positive and inclusive school culture alongside my team.” 

Collaborating with the school’s principal and assistant principals, as well as the school’s social worker, PBIS Director, and SLT Director, “we’ve developed and coordinated programs such as success mentoring groups,” as well as “initiatives for recidivist students who achieve attendance milestones. Our efforts have supported the school’s restorative justice goals by fostering strong relationships within the school and the wider community,” says Davis. “I also work closely with local CBOs, small businesses in the area, and local colleges and universities to provide families and students with essential resources and support. Through these collaborations, we offer access to educational opportunities, job training, and mental health services, as well as programs that emphasize restorative justice principles. These partnerships help our students develop life skills and build relationships within the community, ultimately contributing to a safer, more inclusive, and supportive school environment for all.”

Meditation room at John Adams High School

The impact of restorative practices has been widely felt across the school. “Impacts related to restorative practices have centered around a more emotionally regulated student,” says AP Silverman. The latest data collected has shown large increases in “students’ perceptions that their peers’ classroom behavior improved,” their “increased feeling that they belong at school,” and that “school is a safe place to be.” Silverman adds that “the staff also benefits from a closer relationship with students who are more expressive and talkative about their feelings.” 

 CSD Davis has seen similar improvements. “During my time at John Adams High School, restorative practices have strengthened relationships among students, staff, and families, fostering a sense of community and respect,” says Davis. These practices have effectively reduced disciplinary issues and improved student engagement and academic performance. Collaborating with local organizations has provided students and families with vital resources, creating a supportive and inclusive environment. Overall, restorative practices have promoted personal growth, resilience, and a harmonious school culture.”

AP Silverman adds that “The starting point for building a school culture that demonstrates restorative qualities is the practice of community circles among everyone in the school community. It is in circle that we start to see the true value in each individual and honor the story that each person is living. This is the basis for genuine respect for ourselves and others and it is a commitment to making sure that we are making positive contributions to our community, instead of causing harm. “In circle,” he continues, “we practice living from our core values and make that the foundation for how we choose to be together, knowing that our welfare is inseparable from the wellness of the whole community. This school culture has had a profound effect on student and staff mental health, as well as absenteeism reduction and suspensions.”

These positive outcomes are improving school culture across the board, according to CSD Davis: “The restorative practices have significantly transformed the school culture at John Adams High School by fostering a sense of community, respect, and mutual understanding. Restorative practices have reduced disciplinary incidents and promoted a safer, more inclusive environment by emphasizing relationship-building and conflict resolution. Students and staff are more engaged and invested in maintaining positive interactions, improving overall morale and collaboration. Additionally, restorative practices have provided students with valuable life skills such as empathy, communication, and accountability, contributing to personal growth and resilience. This cultural shift has created a more supportive and harmonious school atmosphere.”

The collaborative leadership critical to the success of the community school model is on full display at John Adams High School, where school building leaders are collaborating with Global Kids to create this positive school culture. “The community school model has positively impacted restorative practices at John Adams High School by providing a holistic approach to student and family support,” says Davis. 

“By collaborating with local organizations, the model offers access to essential resources such as counseling, mental health services, and educational opportunities. This support helps address underlying issues contributing to conflict and behavior problems, leading to reduced disciplinary incidents and improved student engagement. Additionally, having a restorative justice coordinator on staff assists students with conflict resolution and mediation processes, ensuring they learn to resolve conflicts constructively and take responsibility for their actions. This approach fosters a safer, more inclusive environment where students and staff can thrive.”

These additional supports from Global Kids have strengthened the school’s ability to fully commit to restorative practices in particular, which is part of the reason that the model is so enthusiastically supported by school leadership.

In the NYC Community School approach, each school is paired with a lead Community Based Organization (CBO) partner that works collaboratively with the principal and the School Leadership Team (SLT) to carry out the work at the school,” says AP Silverman. The school’s support for the Community School model is strengthened by research about its effectiveness, he adds. “National studies have found that strong community schools have higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates; higher student attendance; higher reading and math scores; improved school climate, including teacher morale and student behavior; greater parent engagement; and lower rates of neighborhood crime and violence. 

AP Silverman has seen these potential impacts become a reality. “As a senior staff administrator who has been here for 15 plus years, I have seen the school go from a struggling school with a 52% graduation rate to a currently thriving school with a graduation rate in the upper 80s. This change was directly sparked by our relationship and support from our CBO, Global Kids.”

John Adams High School

Working together, AP Silverman and CSD Davis see a bright future ahead for their collaboration around restorative practices. 

“I am proud to be working at a school like John Adams that is at the forefront of innovative and research-backed programs designed to support student mental health. We have licensed Social workers both in the school and downstairs in the Northwell-sponsored Health Center,” says AP Silverman. “We are collaborating with the highly regarded NYU Child Study Center. We have a meditation class and restorative justice elective for students. Our latest advancement is co-designing an APP for Virtual reality that will expose students to all facets of bullying to help navigate ways to deal with real life” challenges in a safe space.

“I would like to highlight that restorative practices at John Adams High School have not only improved relationships and conflict resolution within the school but have also strengthened connections with families and the local community,” adds Davis. “Our restorative justice coordinator plays a vital role in guiding students through the process, helping them develop essential life skills such as empathy and accountability. Additionally, ongoing training and professional development for staff ensure that restorative practices are consistently applied and integrated into the school’s culture. These efforts contribute to a more supportive and cohesive environment that benefits everyone involved. Restorative practices help our entire school community grow by fostering understanding, promoting healing, and encouraging open dialogue. Together, we are all growing as a school and building a positive, inclusive school community. Restorative practices have become a cornerstone of our approach to achieving these goals.”

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Email Kevin Coyne at cstac@fordham.edu or call 212-636-6100.