2017-12-07 / Front Page

TMS Behavior Referrals Down

By Brooke Constance White

Thompson Middle School has seen a sharp decline in dean’s office referrals this year after a high rate of referrals during the 2016- 2017 school year due to poor behavior among the student body.

By mid-December of last year, according to Thompson Dean Jared Conheeny, 1,033 students were referred to the dean’s office, compared to 735 referrals so far this year.

“We’re 300 less so far in the first quarter and you put that over the course of one year and that’s 1,200 fewer dean referrals,” Conheeny said. “That’s a truly significant change and I’d say things are considerably better because of the additional staff availability and additional supports in place.”

Conheeny points to the addition of more staff and bolstered school programs that have allowed administrators to more effectively handle student behavioral issues.

So far in the 2017-2018 school year, the administration has added a full-time, in-school restriction teacher for students who need more behavioral support throughout the school day. This teacher allows students to process with a staff member the actions that landed them in restriction, complete work that they are missing in class, and earn their way back into the classroom in a minimum of three class periods, Conheeny said.

Administrators also added more staff to the Behavior Support and the Alternative Learning programs, which offer additional aid for students struggling in the traditional classroom setting.

Last spring, a group of frustrated teachers spoke at a standing room-only school committee meeting to address behavioral issues that escalated across the district last year. Of the 600-plus students enrolled at Thompson Middle School, a small “core” group of students received the 3,000 dean referrals during the 2016-17 school year, according to Newport School District Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

The majority of those referrals, Conheeny said, were the result of insubordination in the classroom, disrespect and “poor choice of language.”

After hearing the teachers’ concerns and looking at the data, Jermain said the school administration created a plan to ensure Thompson students’ social, emotional and psychological needs were being met, as many teachers felt that the behavior crises were stemming primarily from a lack of holistic support.

“We have six and a half hours, five days a week with these students,” Jermain said, noting expanded programs and community connections beyond Thompson’s walls. “But our children leave schools and go to different environments after that and we want to make sure that they have whatever supports they need and that our outreach goes beyond those few hours each day.”

One of the biggest challenges has been finding the staff and particularly the paraeducators needed,

Jermain said, but her team is in the process of hiring three paraeducators for Thompson.

“It’s been a statewide issue and can be frustrating for our teachers,” Jermain said about the difficulty of finding staff to fill positions. “But overall our behavior issues at Thompson seem to be much better.

In addition to expanding supports and current programming, Allynn Grantham, director of student services for the district, said Newport administrators added a staff member with clinical experience and extensive community connections to their district’s team so that Thompson, Pell Elementary School and Rogers High School now have two licensed mental health clinicians providing mental health services at all three schools.

Grantham said behavior at Thompson has improved and that she, Jermain and Assistant Superintendent Kim Behan each spent significant time in the district’s classrooms and that Thompson teachers tend to be vocal about what they need. Jermain agreed saying that while she couldn’t speak for the teaching staff at Thompson, each time she’s checked in with them the behavior issues have gotten better.

“We’ve had community action meetings, open houses and surveys in order to hear from parents and community members,” Jermain said, “and will continue to do that to make sure we’re doing whatever we can to meet the needs of our students.”

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