District focuses on discipline

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2001

Dale Bailey remembers a situation in which a teacher made close to 100 negative comments to a class in less than an hour.

Because the students were misbehaving, Bailey told the teacher to try and improve behavior by being five times more positive for 30 minutes.

&uot;I went in there the next day, and I thought I was in a different class,&uot; said Bailey, a psychologist with the Natchez-Adams School District.

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Lessons like these are the type Bailey and district psychologist, Joel Guyer, explained to elementary administrators Wednesday during a meeting at Braden School.

Since research shows that it takes five positive comments to contradict one negative, the psychologists say a focus on the the positive is a must.

&uot;It’s all about promoting the behavior,&uot; Bailey said.

Instead of just paying attention to misbehavior, also celebrate the good behavior, he said.

The meeting in part was to discuss a new discipline plan called the effective behavioral support plan implemented by the district last year.

The group discussed ways to redirect student behavior, tactics to keep problems from escalating and worked out details of the plan for the upcoming year.

Although criticized by some teachers as being inconsistent and too cumbersome to be effective, district officials say the plan has reduced office referrals caused by discipline by 12 percent.

They say the idea is to teach students how to behave.

Children do not start school knowing how to read and write, and they often do not come to school knowing how to behave, Guyer said. That’s why the district needs to try to teach them because punishments or suspensions won’t solve the problems.

&uot;Sending a student home does nothing in teaching a student how to behave,&uot; Bailey said.

The new discipline plan includes sending students through a series of steps that remove them from the classroom as they fail to comply with their behavior.

These include an in-school detention (ISD) program for minor problems and a program called positive choices for behavior training and more severe or ongoing problems. It also includes Saturday school sessions. ISD is not a punishment but a chance for students to calm down, comply with the teacher and do their work before returning to the classroom, Bailey said.

The idea is for them to realize they are going to have to do their work anyway so they will decide they want to stay in class, Bailey said. Gwen Hitt, outgoing president of the Mississippi School Counselors Association and professional school counselor at Collins Middle School in Collins, said her district also began an in-school suspension program several years ago to avoid sending so many children home.

&uot;What good have you done when you send a kid home for three days vacation,&uot; she said.

Her district is also revamping its discipline ladder to be more consistent and she supports the idea of positive reinforcement.

&uot;Most people learn better in positive reinforcement,&uot; she said. &uot;You’re looking for kids to do something good rather than something bad.&uot;

Yet some teachers remain skeptical saying constant changes to the discipline plan, extra paper work and inconsistency counteracted the plan’s purpose in the Natchez-Adams School District. &uot;They say it worked. It didn’t work, and it’s not going to work this year,&uot; an anonymous teacher said.

She also doubts statistics that a 12 percent decrease in office referrals translated to a decrease in problems and whether the school system could teach behavior.

&uot;It doesn’t work because you have parents who need to be teaching the kids,&uot; she said. &uot;The parents needed to discipline their own kids.&uot;

And how can sending them to in-school detention help when many children like to go there and still do not do their work during that time, she said.