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Episode 9 - MMSD’s Office of School Safety co-directors Gina Aguglia & Sedric Morris join Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins
Episode 919th January 2023 • Lead to Liberate • Madison Metropolitian School District
00:00:00 00:17:26

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Dr. Jenkins speaks with the co-directors of MMSD’s Office of School Safety. Gina Aguglia and Sedric Morris share how they support students, families, and staff through home visits, restorative recovery, and connections to resources, all while building strong relationships within the MMSD community.


00:10 Student Speaker:

From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.

00:28 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins:

Hello, and welcome to Lead to Liberate. I'm your podcast host, Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins. I'm the very proud Superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, one of the very finest school districts in the country. And here, what we do, we talk to our employees about what's going on, how are they leading to liberate. We talk to our community people about leading to liberate. And today, we have two very special guests from our Office of School Safety. Everyone's been talking about it around the country – what's going on in the schools during the pandemic. And now that we're emerging out of the pandemic, what's happening. Our district was one of those districts that made a decision to remove our police officers out of the schools. And we had to come up with a plan of how we were going to connect. But we have here our very own. We have Gina and Sedric. So our special guests, Gina and Sedric, how would you tell us that you're doing right now, coming out of a pandemic, knowing all the things been going on in the schools – talk to us about that? What's, what does it feel like now?

01:40 Sedric Morris:

Right now, coming out of the pandemic, I would say that it was tough. It was tough for everybody. But I think schools are getting focused now. Right? Systems are starting to come together. Students are starting to settle down. And things are working.

02:03 Dr. Jenkins:

Okay, great, great. Well tell me this, because a lot of the talk has been coming out of the pandemic. And you know, we were in social isolation, and then thinking about students how they are trying to manage having been in isolation. And now back in schools, and I heard you saying, yes, systems are coming together. How are you addressing the social-emotional and the mental health? Talk to us, Gina.

02:24 Gina Aguglia:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's something that's so important to be thinking about, we are really intentional about lifting both safety and security in our Office as well as social-emotional and psychological safety. We think that both are very much connected, and both must be balanced and, and, worked on regularly. So the things that we make sure we do is when we're coming into schools and working with schools, that we're really thinking about those safety aspects of relationship building, having-making sure students are feeling welcome, making sure that their social-emotional needs are met. And like Sedric said, we really are, really coming back from this pandemic, and really starting to see systems falling into place. But we know that our kids have a lot of anxiety, we know that there's a lot of, you know, continued concern around, you know, just coming back from this kind of unbelievable experience that we've all, you know, shared with, with going virtual and learning how to pivot from being in person to virtual and now back to in person. It takes a lot of toll on a person, and especially on our children with, you know, that are constantly developing, we know that they are not fully developed brains until they're, you know, 25-26 years old. So we've got a really interesting opportunity here to really support our students who are continuing to develop, and shift, and change, and are faced with additional adversity, how we can utilize safety as a foundation for, to support them.

03:51 Dr. Jenkins:

Yeah, wow, this is really a big decision to go to a Office, really, of school safety. When we, we've been very used to having our school resource officers. But during the pandemic, there were different things that started coming up, and having some student conflict and which actually, you had to go to do some home visits. Talk to us a little bit about that Sedric. What, what actually happens doing that?

04:14 Mr. Morris:

Yeah, so our home visits we started last year, where we go into students’ home. Students, maybe, in having, you know, some issues at school, we go into to offer other supports, right. Whether it's mentoring, education, tutoring, anything that we can do to help the family, right? So just being able to wrap around, not just inside of the building, but also outside of the building, showing that we care in that way. And if any way that we can help, um, help a student, help a family, get back on track. It's what we call the restorative recovery plan. So that's what we want to continue to do.

04:57 Dr. Jenkins:

Well, that's powerful. And I think the fact that you all are doing that restorative recovery. During the pandemic, we talked a lot about that, that some of the students, you have to deal with the whole student, the whole family, and the community. And in that, sometimes, we didn't have the intelligence that we'd normally have been pretty comfortable with. When we were in regular schools, when we had the resource officers in there about what was going on. How did you kind of reestablish that relationship? Do you even have a relationship now with our police officers in our community? And if so, how's that working now?

05:32 Ms. Aguglia:

That's a really good question. I think that it was a really tough decision to determine that we were going to be removing police officers. But we heard from our staff, our students, our families, that we were really needing to try to do things differently. And, and so what we've really tried to push is our office around being an Office of School Safety, but really focused on doing things, ah, differently as it relates to safety. And, you know, Sedric mentioned our restorative recovery plans and working with, with families. Sedric and I both come from backgrounds that are much more involved – I'm a, I'm a social worker by background, Sedric is background in corrections and also in Dane County, working on a ton of, I mean, just amazing youth advocacy, empowerment, supporting youth and getting youth connected to resources in the community, you know, through his job in Dane County. So the two of us coming together and really utilizing those, that background as a platform for school safety is a shift. And then with the removal of SROs and really trying to figure out what we are, you know, going to make sure that we continue to maintain, as far as safety and security goes, we've actually developed some really good relationships with the Madison Police Department. It almost is as if without the SROs, we have been even moreabout making those connections. We, we are regularly meeting with the captains across our, the districts that have our, our high schools. We are checking in with our mental health officers. We are learning more about our opioid diversion program within the police department. There's a lot of different things that we are now collaborating with. Whereas where it was, you know, with the SROs in our buildings, were kind of, you know, just an extension of the police department. But now we do really feel like it's, it's transformed into a, more of a collaboration where we're really working together.

07:29 Dr. Jenkins:

Wow, this is really interesting. And I know too, as well, I've heard the students. You have three employees, right now in the Office of School Safety?

07:49 Ms. Aguglia:

Absolutely, yeah. So Dr. Jenkins is referring to our third Director that we haven't named, who is Bonnie. Bonnie is a certified therapy dog. She is a WAGs dog, which is a organization here in Wisconsin that trains service dogs. But as we've been talking about the pandemic a little bit, Bonnie aged into service dog abilities during the pandemic, and the agency decided not to place her. So she was this very well trained dog that they really wanted to have a good second career for. So I got contacted. My background, like I said, is in social work, but I actually have a certification in animal assisted therapy. And I was really excited to, to adopt Bonnie as my own dog. And now Sedric and I bring her around when we are doing restorative recovery, when we're working with schools, and especially when working with staff. Staff are really, you know, you know, going through a lot all the time and we love to debrief, we love to process, but we also love to bring Barney just for some snuggles.

08:50 Dr. Jenkins:

I tell you, I like going out to the schools, and particularly when we're doing a restorative recovery, but to see Bonnie at work, and all of our children and the staff coming by. Everybody wants to talk to Bonnie. Well, when we look into the future, though, because as you said, we're coming back. We're getting systems in place. How well are you working with the principals? And, we had a number of police calls early on during the pandemic. What does it look like now with those calls, because people are still needing assistance. So what are they doing?

09:32 Mr. Morris:

People are still calling us, still calling the, our crisis line. We still consult with principals every day, Calls really, definitely dropped from last year. And we are continuing to work with the principals around incidents in the schools and how to debrief situations, right? Not every, not every incident needs a police call, right? So walking through how to…what's the next steps, what's the best situation as opposed to calling the police. So being able to work with those principals and build those relationships, definitely has helped in the long run.

10:23 Ms. Aguglia:

And I would say that while police calls from schools have gotten down, we have gotten an increase in school principals connecting with our Office. And so we really are trying hard to make sure that, that principals feel that they have a resource in us – to consult, to collaborate, and to determine next steps. And so, you know, we're never saying, you know, ‘don't call the police,’ we're saying, hey, if it's not an imminent emergency, and you have time to pause, and to create an opportunity for a consultation, we know that when you utilize a multidisciplinary approach, then you are much more likely to have positive outcomes. So if principals can stop, can consult with us, and we can talk through next steps, that always ends up having better outcomes. Regardless of whether or not, you know, police are involved, the more that we can stop and work with our schools directly ends up being a lot more helpful for everyone, including if we involve law enforcement in the future.

11:19 Dr. Jenkins:

Wow, I'll just tell you, just seeing you there last year, going through this, and we're all learning during the pandemic somewhat together, and you were practicing it. And you were doing the calls. And now I'm hearing the principals talk about the relationships that they feel like are so strong with you all. And you connecting with the families, with the parents now – how's that going for you personally, with the parents, now?

11:41 Mr. Morris:

Parents have, have actually been really good, and really responsive of what we're trying to do, what we want to do in the future, what we'll continue to do. We, you know, have, have, again, back to the home visits. When we ask parents what it is that they need, they're more open, you know, and trustworthy of us building relationships with them. So they are more open to telling us what it is that they need, so to speak, [mmhmm] if that makes sense. So in the long run, instead of you know, when something happens in schools, they’ll be more inclined to reach out, and actually have more of a positive impact and positive conversation.

12:26 Dr. Jenkins:

Yeah, have you, have you experienced, at this point – parents…because it's sometimes difficult to share? If you need the service, like mental health? Have parents opened up to you and said, ‘Hey, I think our family could use some of this?’

12:42 Mr. Morris:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I can think of a home visit where we went to, last year, where it was…it wasn't easy, it wasn't an easy situation. The whole situation was, was kind of difficult. But in that moment, a parent didn’t share that, you know, they would love to have some, some extra services, mental health services, but just didn't know how to go about doing it. And Gina was there right there on the spot [mmhmm] to help guide that.

13:13 Ms. Aguglia:

Yeah. And I think that just again, back to our backgrounds, we are really connected to resources around the community. [Mmhmm.] But then, you know, we're also really connected to our resources here in MMSD. We know we have psychs, social workers, counselors, nurses, PBIS, coaches, all these, you know, professionals that are in our schools that are really wanting to make those connections with our families. And sometimes our families just don't know where to go, or who to reach out to. So getting our families connected to those community resources, getting them connected to our school resources, and really trying to all work together in and utilizing that as part of the recovery when instances happen, I think is really important.

13:52 Dr. Jenkins:

Wow, this is really amazing. You know, our core goals talks about belonging and talks about voice. So have you had an opportunity yet to get the voices of our students? Have you sat back and talked to them about ways that your Office could probably benefit our schools even more? And benefit the students?

14:14 Mr. Morris:

Yeah, every time that we’re in schools, right, we're in the schools a lot. We get asked about being- speaking-in different school groups, school based groups. You know, what's next for our office? We've had students come up with great ideas to, to even help. What does our future look like? So being able to just be in the schools, and just stop, and listen, and look, and get, get a sense of what it is that they want, so that we can bring it back, and kind of add it into the work that we do. I think that's important.

14:53 Ms. Aguglia:

Well, and we can’t leave a high school without Sedric at least connecting with three or four different students [laughter] who know him through the community, through all of his work in our schools, or family, or sports, you know, coaching. So that's such an impact too, is that the kids are like, ‘Oh, I know that guy. And that guy's awesome.’ And so then it's extra cool to be able to say, ‘hey, and we want to talk to you about safety and stuff like that.’

15:17 Dr. Jenkins:

Wow, that's awesome. Sedrick, you are a part of the community. Did you actually go to school here many kids, so many people know you

15:27 Mr. Morris:

Yeah, I, um, I am definitely a product of MMSD. Proud, Mudville Elementary, Lincoln, Cherokee Middle School, proud graduate of West High School. graduate from MMSD, as well. So I've been in and out of this community for years. I'm still in the community: coaching, refereeing, mentoring, fraternity, all of that. [Wow.] So I do a lot of work in the community. Yes.

16:02 Dr. Jenkins:

So did you go to higher ed, take your classes here? [Yeah.] An where, where did you go to school?

16:07 Mr. Morris:

Yeah, I actually went to Upper Iowa to get my undergrad degree and then University of Cincinnati to get

16:16 Dr. Jenkins:

Right. That's great. But, what about you, Gina? You're like, you're educated here in the area for your higher ed?

16:24 Ms. Aguglia:

Yeah, I got my undergraduate degree here at UW and [Go Badgers!] Yeah, go Badgers! I actually played soccer for the University of Wisconsin.

16:36 Dr. Jenkins:

Wait a minute. You played on the soccer team?

16:37: Ms. Aguglia: I did. I did.

16:38 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Okay. That's why you’re always challenging me about ‘let's play some soccer here.’ [That’s right] Right? Yeah. Okay. I thought I could beat her.

16:48 Ms. Aguglia:

It’s going to happen, we’re going to go head-to-head at some point. [Okay, great.] But yeah, I got my undergrad here, had a really good experience here. And I actually went and got my master's degree out in Colorado. And Colorado was a pretty amazing place. And I still love Madison so much that I came back. I really, really love it here. I value being here. And I really enjoy being part of the school district.

17:10 Dr. Jenkins:

Wow, well, I'll tell you, you two have definitely been the individuals that we know, can and will continue to help us lead to liberate, and we just want you to continue to push in, about how we can continue to connect with our not only students, but as you've been doing with the families as well, connecting with all of our resources in the community. Because we know that if we do that – establish those relationships – things are going to be better. Things are already getting better. And we're just so excited to have everyone back in person this year. But I also want to thank our listeners again, for listening in to Lead to Liberate, right here. We tried to peel it back, and see what’s really going on in MMSD. Thank you so much for your time. Lead to liberate.

18:00 Student Speaker:

your listening to lead to liberate a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.