Time To Address School Culture And Chronic Behavior Problems

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

School culture can have a variety of descriptors, that are not universally identified. In many ways it is similar to the characterization of pornography by Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964).

School culture is the set of core values that shape patterns of behavior, attitudes and expectations in a school. For educators it can be associated with morale, job satisfaction, and effectiveness, as well as to student learning, achievement, and school safety. The culture in a school can support or limit student learning. It also impacts every action and decision in a school, from management by school administration, how curriculum and classroom materials are selected, all the way down to the interaction of students.

Educators seeks to promote safe, supportive learning environments that cultivate academic growth for all students. If we want to develop all children into healthy and productive citizens, we must also develop their essential social, emotional, and intellectual skills. This means we need to address some of the more critical issues many educators in our public schools’ face: chronic discipline issues with students with behavior issues that cannot be easily addressed in a classroom setting, with an unsupportive school climate. Engaged students rarely cause discipline problems.

Chronic Behavior Problems
The United States Department of Education has pushed back against the zero tolerance policies put in place in many states in recent years. In some cases, this was certainly justified. The most passionate proponents of zero tolerance have expanded the scope of student discipline to include the juvenile justice system. In this situation, an offending student is arrested and charged with a crime in addition to receiving a suspension or expulsion.

Our state and local policies, must consider a very tiered approach to student discipline. Good policies should be grounded on a plan developed by educators in the district, on a school by school basis, if needed. A one size fits all approach is unlikely to work. Texas Appleseed, an organization that seeks to derail the “school to prison pipeline,” offers these recommendations to schools and districts:

Develop, implement, and regularly evaluate a schoolwide disciplinary plan that employs research-based strategies that have been shown to reduce the number of disciplinary referrals.

Ensure that expectations for behavior and consequences for misbehavior are well defined, easily understood, and well publicized to faculty, staff, students, and parents.

Regularly recognize and positively reward genuine good behavior.

Provide ongoing teacher and staff training in positive behavior management, as well as training to enhance cultural competency and the ability to form a positive relationship with parents and students.

Adopt formalized, campus-based programs to monitor at-risk students to prevent escalating disciplinary action and support their success in school.

Strengthen transition planning, monitoring, and support of students upon their return to school from a disciplinary suspension or alternative school placement.

Engage parents/guardians as partners in reinforcing positive behaviors at school.

It is true that suspensions, alternative school placements, and expulsions, should not be a first step on student discipline. However, it must be included as an option and deterrent to chronic behavior issues. There are also some behaviors that may warrant more severe punishment. The underlying principle: all students and educators should feel safe in their classrooms.

Statewide Initiative
Clarksville-Montgomery County School System has implemented an innovative and more comprehensive effort to address some of these issues, which could be a model for other districts in the state. CMCSS is working to enhance emotional health and substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts on campus in order to ensure that schools have the strongest possible mental health safety nets in place. This benefits all stakeholders. It is also one of their strategic goals. This “Mental Health Initiative” is designed to assist students as they transition into thriving adults.

All districts should look to enhance their behavioral programs, including mental health, bullying and suicide prevention programming and systems. They must develop expert resources and create partnerships so that students have the support they need, when and how they need it. We must educate and assist the professionals in our classrooms and schools to learn to leverage this assistance when and how they need it, as well.

The Clarksville-Montgomery County Strategic Plan (below) is innovative. It outlines how Clarksville-Montgomery County approached their strategic work of providing resources and supports to meet students’ needs social and emotional needs. This has been a long-term initiative of Professional Educators of Tennessee to address the growing behavior problems in all of our schools, assist social workers, and identify support for parents.

In 2019, we must consider a statewide school initiative for our next governor and state policymakers to champion. When the home life is stable, test scores and learning will improve. The learning environment increases school productivity. More importantly, we don’t lose our best and most highly qualified educators due to the stress of the environment with increased behavioral problems and disciplinary action. We must be proactive.

The Clarksville-Montgomery County Strategic Plan
This could be a model for other LEAs across the state, and something the state could model nationally. It will require coordination and better collaboration.

Principal Action Plans that focus on helping students: understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for other, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

General purpose budget Mental Health proposal.  Contracted service with Mental Health Co-op to provide immediate mental health support to the neediest students.  Provides immediate psychological and psychiatric support regardless of a student being in general ed or special ed and/or families insurance situation.

General Purpose budget added 12.5 Guidance Counselors to schools to help support the new TN Guidance Counselor Model that states that Guidance Counselors must spend 80 percent of their time directly working with students in the classroom, small groups, and/or individual counseling.

Joint Safety Grant with CMCSS, County Sheriff Department, and City Police Department added an Elementary Lead Counselor to work with Elementary Counselors and Social Workers on best practice and resource support of Social Emotional Learning in their elementary schools.  They already had a Lead Counselor for Middle and High School.

Redistributed some existing Title I grant funding to provide an age appropriate alternative school experience for elementary students that have chronic behavior needs and/or have behaved in a way that jeopardizes that safety of the school, themselves, or others.  This is a temporary placement that works on regulating the student’s behavior and provides a transition plan for when they transition back to their school of origin.

Used Title IV funding to add a Social Worker to the elementary alternative school placement.

J.C. Bowman 
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

Alex George Firing Is Shameful - And Response

Roy Exum: We're Torturing Millions

Alstom And Tubman: A Tale Of Two Sites

My prayers go out to Alex George. It is disgusting and shameful for her to be fired like this, probably illegal as well. I am amazed that a corporation depending on their public persona would ... (click for more)

I’ll admit it – I would rather hurt than take an opioid pain pill. Hydrocodone and its cousins scare the willies out of me because once when I was ‘drug sick,’ it was the worst sickness I have ... (click for more)

The former Alstom industrial site on the riverfront and the former Harriett Tubman housing site in East Chattanooga both have a lot of redevelopment potential. And yet the city of Chattanooga ... (click for more)


Alex George Firing Is Shameful - And Response

My prayers go out to Alex George. It is disgusting and shameful for her to be fired like this, probably illegal as well. I am amazed that a corporation depending on their public persona would behave like this, beyond the pale, unfeeling actions. It’s probably not too late for them to reverse this decision, apologize to her, and begin helping her. Jim Folkner * * * ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: We're Torturing Millions

I’ll admit it – I would rather hurt than take an opioid pain pill. Hydrocodone and its cousins scare the willies out of me because once when I was ‘drug sick,’ it was the worst sickness I have ever known. For somebody who always has somewhere that it hurts, I know that opioids are wonderful when used properly but because they are increasingly abused by society, there are now over ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Chattanooga Police Sergeant Facing Criminal Charge After Arrest In Prostitution Sting

The Chattanooga Police Department has opened an internal investigation of a sergeant in CPD's Investigations Bureau on Thursday after he was taken into custody for solicitation of prostitution. The arrest came during a joint enforcement operation between the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Chattanooga Police Department's Vice Unit. Sgt. Peter Turk was off duty and ... (click for more)

Local Boy Scout Council Says It Is Financially Sound Despite Woes At National Level

The Cherokee Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which serves 11 counties in Tennessee and northwest Georgia, has informed its executive board, donors, supporters, and volunteers that the local organization remains financially strong in light of recent national news stories concerning consideration of bankruptcy at the national level of the organization. Officials said, ... (click for more)


UTC Men Lose In Shootout At Georgia State 95-88

The Chattanooga Mocs got into a shootout tonight in the GSU Sports Arena falling 95-88 at Georgia State. The 183 combined points in regulation are the most in a UTC game since the 125-85 Southern Conference win over The Citadel (210 pts) on Feb. 1, 2016. Five Mocs reach double figures led by David Jean-Baptiste’s career-high-tying 19. Jonathan Scott also set a new high with ... (click for more)

Hurricanes Rally To Beat Previously Unbeaten Mustangs, 63-58, In Overtime

In a District 5-3A basketball slugfest between what may be the two best teams in the league, East Hamilton got the go-ahead points on a steal-and-drive by Darwin Randolph in overtime and the Hurricanes defeated Walker Valley, 63-58, Tuesday night and handed the Mustangs their first loss of the season. “We had to keep playing a smart basketball because Walker Valley is a very ... (click for more)