06/03/08 — Dress code gets high marks from schools

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Dress code gets high marks from schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 3, 2008 1:49 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education heard glowing reports of the higher standard dress code implemented at six schools this year at its meeting Monday night.

Principals from each of the schools involved talked about how the change had bolstered attendance, reduced discipline problems and improved self-esteem among students and staff. The administrators all favored continuing it at their schools and expanding it to others.

Karen Wellington, principal at Brogden Middle School, reported her school had 87 fewer discipline incidents this year compared to last year.

Ninety-four percent of teachers there indicated they would like to see the dress code continue, she said. The only recommendations, she added, would be to either allow fewer choices of colors or add additional shirt colors.

The higher standard dress code -- focused primarily on solid color shirts, pants and shorts free of labels and graphics, and no blue jeans -- was introduced after surveys were distributed throughout the school system last spring. In order to be adopted, at least 70 percent of parents and staff had to approve it at each individual school. In addition to Brogden Middle, the others adopting it were Carver Heights Elementary, Dillard Middle, Goldsboro Intermediate, North Drive Elementary and School Street Elementary.

Carole Battle, principal at Carver Heights, said the change led students to focus more on the real priorities of education.

"By dressing in the clothes not identified with playing or sports, our students began to see school as a place with a purpose for them," she said.

As a result, students developed a more positive self-image, she said, displaying pride and personal responsibility.

"The thing that really touches me is that when people come in to visit, they ask, 'Do you have a dress code here? Your children always look so good,'" she said.

Having a standard uniform of dress also worked for the staff, said Dillard Principal Sylvester Townsend. He said it allowed for both teachers and students to concentrate for more on instruction and less on how they looked.

"The higher standard dress code allowed students not to become distracted with what types of clothing their peers were wearing at DMS," he said.

Disciplinary referrals for the eighth grade level were reduced by 217, although there was a slight increase of 52 for the seventh grade level, he said.

Goldsboro Intermediate, converted to a fifth- and sixth-grade school, is still in transition, said Principal Cortrina Powell.

"We wanted to create a school of pride," she said. "We also wanted to increase security and campus safety and parental support. ... the most important thing was to increase student self-esteem."

Several challenges arose with the addition of the dress code, she said -- students not wearing a belt, families facing tragedies and children experiencing growth spurts during the year.

But educators faced each, Mrs. Smith said, recommending students leave their belts in the locker at the end of each day; various city organizations also stepped forward to assist. The school also has plans to add additional items to its clothes bank.

The successes have been noteworthy, though, she said. Attendance at the school increased this year from 89 percent to 94 percent, with discipline referrals reduced by 50 percent.

"We're not saying that the dress code alone has changed the climate," she told the school board. "It has helped put our students in the mind frame when they come to school, we're about business."

Two schools known for their poorer populations also espoused the virtues of the school uniform.

While the biggest challenge faced may be poverty, Dan McPhail, principal at School Street Elementary, also cited children "growing out of their clothes" as well as new families moving to the area that had to be indoctrinated to the policy.

Fortunately, the principal said, assistance became available.

"We were able to do some things for them inside, in-house, with some funds that were donated for purposes like that," he said.

Eliminating the peer pressure of keeping pace with other students' wardrobe helped, McPhail said.

"The biggest thing that we have seen -- reduction in referrals are off and self-esteem, there's a demeanor that has been shared with me by our visitors, there's an environment that they feel, that the school is a little bit different," he said.

"Would we like to do it again? Adamantly. My hope is that the schools that are not doing it would do this, too, because I think they would see the same differences."

Carol Artis, principal of North Drive, admitted to being "a little apprehensive" at the outset.

"We have a lot of indigent students," she said.

But the move turned out to be a positive one, she said.

"It has allowed us to join with our community and with our business partners so that they can find a very tangible way to help our students," she said. "We have been able and most fortunate for our business partners to join with us in setting up a coat closet or a uniform closet. We have a plethora of shirts and pants that they can use."

"Discipline is down, students are seeing a sense of community, self-esteem is raised," she said. "There's a sense of pride and a sense of oneness. "

Board member Rick Pridgen said he had already been approached about other schools interested in adopting the policy.

Olivia Pierce, executive director of community relations, said that the policy already allows for that and advisory councils at any school can make a request to introduce the dress code there.