Opinions differ on new system

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 13, 2001

Dr. Carl Davis says it’s been 20 percent more effective.

Some teachers say it’s been disruptive and inconsistently enforced.

&uot;It&uot; is the Natchez-Adams School District’s year-old discipline program. Designed to teach new behaviors, the program uses a series of steps from classroom time-outs to in-school detentions to behavior modification classes. Ultimately, the superintendent and others say the plan allows students to spend more time in school – and ultimately in a setting that offers them the opportunity to learn. Davis describes the approach as a &uot;more proactive&uot; plan, and admits that with it &uot;more work and more responsibility (is) attached to the teacher in handling those simple classroom disruptions.&uot;

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But, he also said this week that recent complaints about the discipline program and its administration surprised him. &uot;It (was) all smoothed out to my understanding,&uot; he said, explaining that the district used results of anonymous surveys to make adjustments in the administration of the plan throughout the year. For example, as the year moved forward, district officials cut back the paper work and teachers were given more latitude, he said.

Yet, several teachers raised concerns during the last two weeks about the discipline program. And some of the 59 certified personnel who left the district last year cited that program, along with administration issues, as their reason for leaving.

&uot;I think this is a good plan; I really do if they would do what it says if they would follow it to a ‘T,’&uot; said one teacher who works within the district but asked to remain anonymous. For example, she said, some building principals altered the plan and the rules, and because of that some students with the most severe discipline problems did not advance to the Central Alternative School, as designed in the plan.

Those types of interpretations, along with the reinterpretations and revisions of the plan throughout the year, frustrated some teachers. Others – who asked not to be quoted because they are employed within the district – cited concerns about the disruption to the classroom, both from students moving in and out of the hall to time-out periods and from those disruptive students being required to spend more time in the classroom before moving on to the next level of the program. The gains in some children’s behavior did not offset the detractions to other students, one teacher said.

Aquetta Butler, who joined the district last year, said she understands the goal of the program. &uot;It’s attempting to redirect them to the correct behavior,&uot; she said. &uot;Instead of ‘don’t, don’t, don’t’ you tell them, ‘do,do,do.&uot;

And, she learned in her classes at McLaurin that each child is different, and each punishment had to be different, as well. &uot;What works with one child may not necessarily work with another child, and you have to take that into account,&uot; she said.

Delores Hunt, a member of the Parent Teachers Organization at McLaurin, agrees that discipline is a major problem for teachers. But she blames family life for part of that problem.

&uot;A lot of these issues have to be addressed in the home,&uot; Hunt said. &uot;Unfortunately, we have very few parents who are actually taking an interest in the educational process.&uot;

Even during the school hours, parents have a responsibility for their child. &uot;Just because we’re sending these kids over to McLaurin (the parents are) still in charge of the kids,&uot; Hunt said.

Yet, that parental involvement can be a double-edged sword, as teachers complain that administrators do not always support teachers’ decisions when confronted by angry parents. Even Davis said teachers have for years complained that higher officials tend to give in to parents. But, he said, when parents call the central office, administrators try to listen to the points and often they try to refer the matter back to the building principals.

&uot;You’ve always had teachers unhappy because of administration and that isn’t always administration’s fault,&uot; said Terry Estes, a former long-time member of the school board. But, &uot;the teachers are unhappy with the flow of work, the amount of work and the support they seem to get from the administrators in the central office.&uot;

And, because of that, he thinks administrators and teachers should further explore the issues.

Don Marion, a former district employee and now a member of the school board, also sees a need for answers. &uot;When a person is willing to drive from Natchez to Meadville to get a better teaching situation, I (believe) we have a problem.&uot;