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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rethinking discipline to increase academic achievement

Today’s Jones’ Journal is a guest post from Associate Superintendent Dr. Andre Denson

Since Superintendent Dwight D. Jones began his tenure with the District, we’ve all refocused our efforts to prepare every student so they are “Ready by Exit”.  That means ready to compete in college or career without remediation. Getting every student prepared for this task requires regular attendance.

After noticing that African American students make up just 12 percent of our student body but 43 percent of the students expelled, Superintendent Jones brought together a panel of educators, parents and community leaders to examine this trend and offer possible solutions.

Last week at the School Board meeting, the Superintendent’s Educational Opportunities Advisory Council (SEOAC) – on which I served as Co-Chair – presented our findings. As a former teacher, I know how important it is to maintain a non-disruptive classroom. As a former principal, I know our first priority is maintaining a peaceful and safe environment on our campuses. While our safety is our priority, our job is to educate students. We can’t do that if they’re not in school.

The rate of expulsion for African American students is disproportionately high. We must look at alternative methods of discipline that do not begin and end with kicking students out of school. With serious disciplinary infractions such as bringing weapons on campus, expulsions are of course the first and only option. For lesser discipline issues, however, administrators may need to look to additional methods that keep children in school in a learning environment. Supporting our schools and figuring out ways to keep students in them will be a delicate and difficult balance. But it’s a balancing act that requires immediate action if we are to meet Superintendent’s ambitious yet attainable goal of “Ready by Exit”. 

This was a collaborative process that brought together a diverse group of leaders from our community.  As the District continues to move on this pressing matter, we’ll keep the community updated. Our recommendations may be consolidated and refined as this dialog continues.

The SEOAC recommended the following ten action items for the District to address the current overrepresentation of students being expelled:

1. Improve Data Quality: Data collection related to suspension and expulsion will be consistent, reliable, standard (across schools), annually available to the public, will reflect the intent of SEOAC recommendations.

2. Reduce Over-Representation: Impose a moratorium on suspensions and expulsions except for the Big 5 offenses, at the Superintendent’s discretion as to terms, with a caveat that student-on-student assaults that result in injury now fall under the Big 5 heading.

3. Develop Cultural Competency: Mandatory professional development on cultural competency will be provided for all new teachers and administrators.

4. Extend Cultural Competency: At each school each year at least one professional development day will be devoted to cultural competency.

5. Gauge the Benefit of Professional Development: Implement an evaluation procedure to identify the impact of professional development that is intended to promote cultural competency.

6. Refine What We Mean by Cultural Competency: Articulate standards and expectations of professional responsibility related to cultural competency.

7. Provide Early Intervention: Restructure Title I to focus on early interventions with the most at-risk student population.

8. Enhance Early Literacy: Students in K-3 who are not-yet-proficient in literacy will receive appropriate interventions.

9. Provide Better, Earlier, and Different Alternatives to Suspension and Expulsion: During the moratorium period, investigate for possible implementation various models of tiered-intervention disciplinary systems that include parent notification policies, e.g., the Baltimore model.

10. Monitor progress and report (at least quarterly) on the implementation of these recommendations.

The District looks forward to working with principals, staff, and community stakeholders on how these recommendations can be implemented effectively and efficiently.
- Dr. Andre Denson