School officials: Discipline plan still a work in progress

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 11, 2000

A new discipline plan in the public school district is helping but it needs more work, officials said.

&uot;It’s kind of like a piece of clay on one of those potter’s wheels,&uot;&160;said Joel Guyer, psychologist with the Natchez-Adams School District.&160;&uot;You’ve got to keep working it.&uot;

The district implemented the new plan this fall to teach students better behavior.

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The idea is to keep students in school where they can learn instead of suspending them from school.

&uot;(The program is) not only focusing on your behavior it includes your classroom work,&uot;&160;said Natchez Middle School Assistant Principal, Cleveland Moore.

Moore says he has seen a decrease in discipline problems this year now that students can learn better behavior and take part in programs such as anger management.

The program involves redirecting bad behavior by sending students to Saturday school or for a short stay at in-school detention for minor infractions.

And school officials now send students to a positive choices program called PCP for more serious or ongoing behavior problems, instead of suspending them.

The program also focuses on rewarding students for good behavior while teaching the consequences of bad behavior, Guyer said.

&uot;It’s a proactive program instead of a punitive along program,&uot; Guyer said. &uot;And it’s the proactive part that is so hard to get started.&uot;

When the school district first implemented the plan, some staff members were concerned that the program would not be supported or not effective in handling discipline.

But Carole Cotten, a sixth-grade teacher at McLaurin Elementary, said she sees the program having a positive impact.

&uot;We are all working together to make it work,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;It is slowly, but surely weeding out some of the severe discipline problems.&uot;

But the district still needs to work to address some of the more &uot;nit-picky&uot; problems such as talking in class, she said.

Linda Logan, a seventh-grade teacher at Natchez Middle School, admits that many teachers had some doubts about the new plan at the start of the school year.

Some teachers still say it will not work for some children, but &uot;overall it does work,&uot; Logan said.

&uot;I think it’s one of the most positive things we’ve had in awhile,&uot; Logan said. &uot;It’s been positive for me and the children I work with.&uot;

District psychologist Dale Bailey agrees teachers have had a mixed reaction to this new concept..

&uot;Some say we have less problems. Some say we have more problems. Some say we’re not being tough enough,&uot; Bailey said, adding that he is still pleased with how the plan is working so far.

This school year, Guyer and Bailey say they have seen a decrease in discipline referrals for major or severe offenses such as fighting, disrespect or continual violations, which leads to a student being place in PCP.

Natchez High School has seen a 12 percent in major or severe violations with Natchez Middle School seeing a 25 percent decrease district-wide the Natchez schools have had an 18 percent decrease, Guyer said.

On average, 37 students per day are placed in the in-school detention, with an average of eight to 12 students being assigned to PCP each day for each school.

As expected, 80 percent of the students being referred to the office are in the fourth to seventh-grades.

&uot;Those are transitional years for kids,&uot; Guyer said.

The district went through what the psychologists call a &uot;honeymoon&uot; period at the start of the school year when discipline problems were low under the new plan.

Eventually, students begin to test the limits of the program and discipline problems increased, Guyer said.

To address this development, the district made some changes.

For example, at McLaurin and Morgantown Elementary, fourth to sixth-grade students are now sent to in-school detention for misbehaving after receiving three time outs per week as opposed to three per day.

&uot;(The students) basically get three warnings a week,&uot; Bailey said.

And the district now requires high school students to attend Saturday school if they accrue four tardies during a nine-week grading period as opposed to four tardies in just one week.

Guyer and Bailey think the new discipline program is 30 to 35 percent implemented but they are still pleased with the process.

&uot;This is not a one-shot-fix-it-all,&uot; Bailey said. &uot;It’s a change in thinking (and) a change in philosophy and it’s not going to happen over night.&uot;

To improve implementation, Bailey and Guyer say the district will focus on consistency, more parental involvement and providing more positive activities for students with good behavior. Individual schools have already begun some program to reward students who exhibit good behavior during a giving period.

These include letting them wear jeans on certain days or placing their names into drawings for prizes, such as a car at Natchez High School.