September 16, 2015

Teachers Talk Back: Melody Donnelly

Melody Donnelly has taught for two years and is currently the Assistant Principal at Ingenium Charter School in Canoga Park, Calif. Prior to becoming an educator, she practiced law as a Juvenile Justice Advocate in the state of California. In addition, Melody was a member of the E4E-Los Angeles 2014 Teacher Policy Team on School Climate.

In this conversation with E4E-Los Angeles Outreach Director Jen Baca, Melody shares about her experience with the E4E Teacher Policy Team.

This interview has been condensed and edited with the interviewee’s approval.

Jen Baca (JB): What inspired you to become a teacher?

Melody Donnelly (MD): Working as a Juvenile Justice Advocate in the Delinquency Division of the San Diego County Public Defenders’ Office, I witnessed firsthand the school to prison pipeline. When the opportunity arose to transition from law into education, I jumped! I knew the effect I could potentially have on California’s youth, and my hope was to help instill concepts of restorative justice to the student discipline system at our school.

JB: What interested you in joining a Teacher Policy Team on the topic of School Climate?

MD: A positive school climate is something every child should experience regardless of income, ethnicity, race, or nationality. As educators, our duty is to ensure student safety of mind and body for all students. When the law is used in an inequitable way, policymakers and the people affected by those policies must intervene and force change. The E4E Teacher Policy Team on school climate seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.

JB: At the beginning of the Teacher Policy Team process, you identified a student who would keep you centered on the work you did as a team. Who was that student and how did their story and your relationship with them guide you?

MD: I thought of a child I defended in Juvenile Court. Unfortunately, he was a target of racial profiling and police discrimination. As a 13 year-old, he was handcuffed for no more than standing on a corner and—in my opinion—was searched illegally. Although I could not change his situation in court that day, he guided the positive changes I recommended as a member of the team, in order to prevent similar occurrences for young men of color.

JB: Why should teachers take the lead in creating education policy recommendations?

MD: Until teachers take the lead in affecting policy, they’ll be tacitly subjecting themselves and their students to outdated, potentially impractical rules. However, teachers are uniquely situated to impact policy reform. Teachers are the proverbial boots on the ground, the primary eyes and ears that interact with students, and can offer specialized insights into student needs. They live the empirical data of the classroom each day, and have an important perspective that can influence the very policies that affect their classrooms.