02/24/09 — Parents, teachers discuss discipline

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Parents, teachers discuss discipline

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 24, 2009 1:46 PM

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John Stokes, left, was moderator at one of the tables during the Wayne County Board of Education's third Kitchen Table Conversation, held Monday evening at North Drive Elementary School. Discussing "Discipline with Respect" are Janell Stone, center, parent of a third-grade student, and Kathye Batts, parent of a seventh-grade student.

Back in the day, behavior problems at school were handled much differently.

There was no ISS (in-school suspension) and long-term suspension was really rare.

"Your teacher kept you after school. You stayed in class but you were punished by the teacher whose class you misbehaved in," said Thelma Smith, school board member.

Times may be different, but the former educator said she is bothered by the rising need for more extreme measures of discipline.

"We don't want kids suspended. We want them to stay in school to be taught," she said Monday night during the School Board's third Kitchen Table Conversation.

Held at North Drive Elementary School, the topic was "Discipline with Respect." Thirty-five parents and community members discussed the role of parents and schools to support positive student behavior and discipline.

To set the tone, Allison Pridgen, director of student support services, and John Twitty, principal of Belfast Academy, one of the district's two alternative schools, gave an overview of the district's policies and practices.

"Children truly don't mean to make bad decisions," Mrs. Pridgen said. "Sometimes they just need a little help understanding the rules."

Alternative schools were set up as one means of providing that "little bit of extra support" for students who need it.

The school system has 38 discipline areas dealt with every day, 17 of those involving law enforcement.

"The first 25 long-term suspensions that I did this school year had to do with felony infractions," Mrs. Pridgen said. Some of those cases, she added, could be attributed to lack of supervision or something as simple as a youths who "found themselves in places they didn't need to be."

The statistics are glaring. As a hearing officer, she said in the last school year, she moderated 475 long-term suspension hearings.

"That's not a number to be proud of," she said. "That's a number we need to be concerned about. We have children that communicate threats, that we take seriously. We have children that are disruptive in a class to the point that teachers can't teach and students can't learn."

As a school system, educators do everything possible to provide a safe learning environment.

"During the typical school day, we are responsible for your children and we will treat them with all due dignity and respect," Mrs. Pridgen said.

Mrs. Smith called the report "disturbing."

"We have got to do something to encourage our children to be on their best behavior," she said. "You can't learn when you're out (of school) and you can't learn when you're sitting at home."

Parents have to be part of the battle plan, she added. Which is exactly why they were invited to the table, to help in the strategy.

Shirley Edwards, moderator at one of the tables, agreed, taking it a step further.

"We're recommending hiring parent ombudsmen," she said.

Realizing that the school system does not have funds to pay them, she said other monetary sources could be sought, and that it would be money well spent.

"Once you place some parents into the school system on a daily basis, they will see what's going on, they will come back into the communities and give suggestions to the churches and communities," she said. "But when you shut people out, they're not going to give you this kind of input you're looking for."

Rovonda Freeman suggested creating a better connection between behavior and consequences.

"Encourage students to become involved in helping other students," Robert Freeman said. "We feel that when students help other students, they feel a sense of self-worth."

Janet Brock's group mentioned mentoring as a means to work with low self-esteem or at-risk students.

John Stokes said his table's recommendation would be to create better environments so schools would be more inviting.

Parent Towanda Hagans said consistent discipline is also important.

"Say what you mean and mean what you say, enforcing the rules," she said. "Don't be lenient with one and stern with another.

Mrs. Patsy Faison, principal of Tommy's Road Elementary School, and facilitator of the discussion, said her definition of discipline is all about teaching.

"We have got to work with our children, not only in the schools but also at home as well," she said. "Children pay very little attention to what you say but do pay attention to what you do."

Results of the nearly two-hour discussion will be compiled and shared with the Board of Education and principals, and will be posted on the district Web site, www.waynecountyschools.org.

Meanwhile, one more Kitchen Table Conversation will be added to the calendar for this school year. And it's expected to be a hot topic.

"I have asked that we please have some conversation on school transfers," Mrs. Smith said. "There's conversation out there, we just need to bring it to the table."

The open transfer policy in the county schools has long been debated. And whether or not it is changed remains to be seen. But at the very least, Mrs. Smith said, giving the public a chance to be part of the discussion will be helpful.