2017-08-24 / Front Page

Schools Roll Out New Disciplinary Model

By Brooke Constance White

Last year Thompson Middle School, which has 600 students enrolled, recorded some 3,000 dean referrals for disciplinary reasons. Rogers High School, with 640 enrolled students, had around 900 referrals.

In an effort to reduce the excessive number of dean referrals, especially at Thompson, the Newport School district administration will be rolling out a more holistic and reflective form of discipline that addresses student’s social, emotional and academic needs when the new school year starts in September after Labor Day.

The new disciplinary model was successfully piloted amongst a small group of students at Rogers last year, and the administration hopes to build upon the new discipline model’s initial success to reduce the jarring dean-referral numbers at Thompson.

The forward-thinking initiative is a teaching tool meant to help students self-regulate emotions and inappropriate actions, according to Newport Public Schools Superintendent Colleen Jermain. Instead of suspending a child from school, the student would report to the restorative behavior room to utilize various tools and resources in order to reflect on their behavior.

“We want our students to learn from their mistakes so they don’t let it happen again,” Jermain said. “And we want our students in school because attendance is so important so this is a way of providing social and emotional teaching that’s very different from the way it was done when I was growing up.”

During a School Committee meeting in June, a group of teachers reported numerous incidents at Newport’s public schools, including offensive and vulgar language, children being carried out of the classrooms kicking and screaming, and students physically fighting with one another and staff.

Matthew Boyle, a history teacher at Thompson for nearly 30 years, described one instance when a student punched a teacher in the nose, and other incidents that involved students urinating in sinks, wiping feces on bathroom walls, and setting off stink bombs.

“The current state of affairs is nearing crisis level,” Boyle said at the June meeting. “Personally, I have had a rock thrown at me while I was leaving a building and have been the recipient of harassing statements.”

Other teachers had similar horror stories at the meeting, including Jennifer Hole, a Pell Elementary schoolteacher and vice president of the Teacher’s Association of Newport.

“To put it bluntly, some of the behavior is dangerous, threatening and frightening,” Hole said.

At Pell last year, the administration began implementing a new disciplinary model called Open Circle, which is an evidence-based social and emotional program for elementary school-aged students focused on developing children’s skills for recognizing and managing emotions and problem solving, while helping schools develop a culture where they feel safe and are engaged in learning.

In the next few weeks leading up to the new school year, Jermain said the two schools will be setting behavior expectations and informing students and parents about what they can anticipate with this new disciplinary approach.

“Academics and learning are very important and so we’re setting high expectations for behaviors and we expect those expectations to be followed,” she said. “We want to keep our students focused on academics and so we did some reshifting in the budget to make sure that we had a full-time staff at both Thompson and Rogers to implement this new disciplinary program.”

Allynn Grantham, director of student services for the district, described the initiative as a multi-tiered system that’s utilizing a curriculum based on current brain research and developmentally appropriate practices.

“It’s designed to make changes in the lives of students using restorative practice and de-escalation and working with adults to help them teach children self-control,” she said. “Conscious discipline utilizes perception, unity, love, attention, acceptance, free will [and] intention that allow teachers to draw from within themselves to help students become proactive instead of reactive in moments of conflict.”

The hope is that the new system will be more restorative than punitive in order to change school culture as students and teachers are learning and working together, Grantham said, adding that many states are moving toward a similar model.

“We’re really excited about this and we believe it’s going to make a huge difference in our middle and high school,” Grantham said. “I wish we could say we came up with the concept but we’ve really just taken work that’s already been done and made it relevant for us here in Newport.”

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