NASD has new ideas for discipline

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 16, 2000

Natchez Middle School teacher Cindy Thornton has a plan for the first day of school this year. Following a new plan approved by the Natchez-Adams School Board, she will send students who cause discipline problems to a special class or to in-school detention.

&uot;I love the idea of skipping the office and (sending students) straight to in-school detention,&uot; Thornton said, even if that means she’s teaching a smaller class by the end of the day.

One thing’s certain — those students who cause discipline problems will continue to learn in school rather than be sent home on suspension.

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Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis calls the new plan &uot;innovative.&uot;

After reviewing the types of discipline problems students exhibited, the district revamped its discipline plan for the 2000-01 school-year to include fewer suspensions and more behavioral training for students.

From August to October 1999, the district issued 5,393 discipline notices, mostly to students who acted disrespectfully or showed a lack of follow-through or compliance, Davis said.

Most of the students were repeat offenders — about 4,000 of the district’s 5,100 students not receiving a single notice, Davis said.

That habitual offender problem led the district to establish new discipline methods geared towards keeping children in school where they can learn, Davis said. &uot;This is a bold and innovative step,&uot; he said. &uot;But I realize you’ve got to change with the times.&uot;

Under the plan, district officials hope to offer rewards and incentives to students who behave well and hold students who misbehave accountable for their actions, Davis said.

Under the district’s previous system, students were suspended more often, causing them to miss school work. Students would return to class never having learned a better way to behave or catching up on the work they missed, Davis said.

&uot;That’s the whole purpose of the (plan) — is to teach the child to comply,&uot; and learn acceptable behavior,&160;said Mary Kate Garvin, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

District officials describe the new plan as a prosocial program designed to teach students respectful behaviors and social skills they may be lacking Davis said he is not sure respect can be taught, but he thinks students need to be exposed to the concept. It then needs to be reinforced.

&uot;I think you can give basic frameworks on what’s right and what’s wrong,&uot; Davis said. &uot;We want to make sure kids are being exposed to what’s right and fair.&uot;

Barbara Winston, a behavior modification teacher at Morgantown Elementary School, also said she thinks students can learn better behavior.

Teachers can do this by engaging the students in role-plays and modeling respectful behavior to them, she said. Winston acts out for students exactly what she means by such class rules as walking into the class and sitting down quietly. &uot;You teach by example,&uot; she said.

She said she thinks the new plan can work but consistency is the key. &uot;I know that it will work,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;All the children need to know is what is expected of them.&uot;

But Connie Sirman, a parent with two daughters at McLaurin Elementary, is not certain behavior and respect can be taught by anyone other than a student’s family. &uot;The parents are just going to have to be responsible,&uot; she said.

She is not certain the new plan will work, and she questions a system that turns teachers into social workers. &uot;(The school’s) job is to teach my kids and other kids who want to learn,&uot; she said.

Sirman said she does not think some of the plan’s concepts — such as sending children to a different class for a short time — are new.

But Dr. Robert Smith, an adjunct-professor at Alcorn State University whose child attends Natchez Middle School, said he thinks the discipline plan is one of the best ever initiated by the district. Smith supports the concept &uot;simply because the kids cannot learn if they are out on the street,&uot; he said.

He thinks it is better to try to teach the students how to behave than to suspend them and send them home.

Smith considers the plan a move in the right direction but he also wants to see how it will work once implemented.