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Fewer kids are causing disruptions, getting sent to the principal's office or suspended, and a new approach to discipline is part of the reason, Beaufort County School District administrators say.
Teachers and administrators now focus as much on rewarding good behavior as punishing bad acts. They also are creating uniform expectations throughout a school, according to Cynthia Hayes, the district's student services officer.
Since the program was first implemented three years ago, suspensions have decreased 34.5 percent, according to district figures.
In the 2007-08 school year, more than 3,750 students were suspended.
Last school year, that number was down to 2,468, according to a report presented to the board of education at its work session Friday.
By the end of the school year, all district schools will use some form of the "Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports" system, Hayes said.
In PBIS, some instructional time is devoted to learning appropriate behavior. At Whale Branch Middle School, for example, time is spent in non-core classes at the beginning of the school year discussing the right way to act in the classroom, hallways, lunch room, on the bus and in other areas. Students learn appropriate behaviors, are guided through worksheets on them and have the opportunity to practice, Whale Branch Middle Principal Matthew Hunt said.
"We teach behavior as we would any other academic subject," he said. Sometimes behavior expectations in a student's home aren't the same as expectations within the school, he said.
Schools post reminders to students around the building on how to behave. Often these reminders are acrostic poems based on the school's mascot; at Whale Branch Middle, home of the Orcas, students should be open-minded, ready, compassionate, alert and exhibit self-control.
The staff at Whale Branch Middle track data about disciplinary issues and use it to make decisions. In meetings, teachers see how many office referrals they've written compared to other teachers. They discuss classroom-management techniques and encourage one another to implement the PBIS methods, which include reminding the student of appropriate behavior and allowing time for reflection before sending him or her to the office, Hunt said.
Teachers who make an inordinate amount of referrals are held accountable, Hunt told the school board at its Friday meeting.
However, the objective is not to discourage teachers from reporting genuine problems to an administrator; it is to stem the behavior that leads to referrals by recognizing good behavior.
For instance, rather than disciplining a student after he or she breaks the rules, teachers seek clues to the cause of the rule-breaking -- perhaps the student is acting out because he or she is bothered or worried. The teacher meets with administration, guidance counselors, other teachers, social workers and the student's family to discuss how to best reach the student and stop the negative behavior, Hunt said.
It's about knowing what's going on in the students' lives, Battery Creek High School principal Edmond Burnes said.
"When they get suspended, it's because they've committed an infraction as a result of something else going on in their life," Burnes said.
At Battery Creek, suspensions dropped about 70 percent from 943 four years ago to 278 last school year. PBIS isn't the only factor in the drop, Burnes said, but it is a big one.
He saidincreased enrollment in the school's ROTC program, and even recent renovations to the building also contribute. Each is part of changing the school's culture, he said.
At Beaufort High School, where suspensions have dropped from 698 in the 2007-2008 school year to 363 last year, PBIS has just started to play a role. The school uses some of the hallmarks of the program, including its collaborative approach to stopping bad behavior, principal Dan Durbin said.
Durbin said those methods emphasize involvement in the students' lives.
"I think it makes a big difference when you know the students and you're able to communicate with them," Durbin said. "Then dealing with issues becomes a partnership between the family and the school."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.