Wichita district leaders say they plan to turn around discipline problems in elementary schools by clarifying expectations, monitoring data more carefully and helping teachers better understand students’ diverse backgrounds.
“If people are on the same page, (if) there’s conversations happening … I believe you’re going to begin to see the trajectory of what’s happening with the behavior change,” said superintendent Alicia Thompson.
The district also plans to ramp up teacher recruitment and retention, with a focus on placing more veteran teachers in high-poverty schools.
Thompson and Michele Ingenthron, assistant superintendent of elementary schools, presented a blueprint to school board members Monday for improving student behavior.
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Data shows that the number of suspensions, detentions and trips to the principal’s office have increased substantially in Wichita schools over the past four years. The trend is especially dramatic in elementary schools, where the number of discipline incidents increased more than 53 percent.
Ingenthron, a former principal at three high-poverty elementary schools, joined the district’s central leadership team in March. She said new training for principals will focus on setting behavior expectations and dealing with misbehavior.
“We’re bringing this back to the forefront to make sure that all of our buildings are on the same page,” she said.
Thompson said she wants principals to revisit the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), a districtwide plan rolled out seven years ago that sought to improve student achievement and address behavior issues.
The plan calls for clear expectations in classrooms, hallways and common areas, and for school employees to agree on what types of misbehavior should be referred to the principal. It also seeks to limit office referrals in general, and to avoid out-of-school suspensions as punishment.
Another element of MTSS calls for a 3-to-1 ratio of positive interactions: Teachers aim to “catch” a child doing something good – taking turns, helping a classmate, sitting quietly – at least three times for every one time they point out misbehavior.
Ingenthron said revamped training for school employees also will focus on understanding and valuing cultural diversity.
The majority of teachers are white, middle-class and female, while Wichita schools’ demographics have been shifting toward greater racial, ethnic, linguistic and economic diversity. Last fall, for the first time, the overall number of Hispanic students in Wichita schools surpassed the number of non-Hispanic white students.
“It’s really just understanding those kiddos that are sitting in front of you,” Ingenthron said. “Understanding their culture and how you can bring that culture into instruction so that … kids have something to connect their new learning with.”
School board member Joy Eakins said she supports efforts to reduce discipline incidents but wants to make sure school-level data is accurate. She said she heard from teachers that some principals return misbehaving students to the classroom too often, in part to lower the number of office referrals.
“Are we allowing people to skew those numbers?” Eakins said. “And where’s the accountability that that doesn’t happen?”
Thompson said leaders plan to conduct “deep dives” into discipline data, as well as visit schools regularly to make sure behavior procedures are in place.
“What we don’t want to do is micromanage or make people feel like we’re the hammer. … But our ultimate goal is the results,” she said.
“So we’re looking to see a decrease in behaviors, a decrease in office referrals, a decrease in suspensions, expulsions, the whole gamut. We will be monitoring that data.”