The administration of the Franklin County Schools has begun the school year with a no-nonsense approach towards discipline that carries with it the message that disrespect towards teachers and staff will not be tolerated.
At the Aug. 28 regular school board meeting, Principal Jill Rudd reported 111 referrals in the first 11 days, about two-thirds of them in the elementary school grades where they are often for bad behavior on the buses. As of the date of the school board meeting, she said there had been 180.
Teachers make referrals to the principals’ office after they tried at least two interventions inside of their classrooms.
“That’s an awful lot for referrals,” said Board Chair Stacy Kirvin. “But it’s a reflection that you’re changing the expectation of behavior. I commend you on that. I know it’s not easy; it would be easier to let it slide.”
Rudd elaborated on what she and Assistant Principal Rob Wheetley have been dealing with, and a discussion ensued among the board.
“It’s truly disrespect we’re dealing with, getting them to respect their teacher in a different manner,” said Rudd.
Members of the school board voiced support for the administration’s policy.
“Once we start suspending them off the bus we’ll see an improvement,” said Pam Marshall. “Those kids need to be sent home to mama and daddy. They got to know we mean business and they’re going to go home.”
At the time of her report last month, Rudd said the district still was in need of aides for two bus routes, on the transportation serving Lanark Village and Ridge Road outside Eastpoint.
In addition, at that time the district had to rely on a substitute to oversee in-school suspensions, although that has since been remedied with the hiring of Delores Croom to coordinate the room where students are sent, for an entire day, and required to complete work assigned them by their teachers.
“We have to allocate money where it’s needed and now it’s needed with discipline,” said Kirvin. "That’s our more pressing issue, discipline. That’s the problem we need to address.”
Rudd said the seventh graders at the school have been a particularly thorny challenge, with upwards of 18 of these students already having faced disciplinary action.
“That one class feeds off each other a lot. We did split them up,” she said.
“It seems like kids are just pushing to the edge,” Kirvin said, advising the administration to stack code of conduct violations of disrespect and defiance on top of each other, so it carries more serious penalties.
“Out-of-school suspensions and absences are what we’re trying to prevent,” said Rudd. “Parents have been notified. We want to give these teachers a chance to talk to them. The parents just want their voice to be heard but they have to start at the right level.”
With the permission of parents, corporal punishment has been used at least twice so far this year, Rudd said, although she said it has had mixed results.
“It does not work,” she said. “These children need to learn how to be respectful and it has to start at the home.”
George Thompson took a tough stand regarding students who present persistent disciplinary problems. “How many times are you going to let them disrespect the class?” he said. “I’d just as soon get them out.”
Teresa Ann Martin said she recognized that “some kids get bored very easily,” prompting Rudd to note that the school leadership is looking to create more electives that could interest students.
“It’s hard to find an elective that fits people being disrespected. Dropping the f-bomb, it shouldn’t be acceptable,” said Kirvin.
“For some students it’s the only language they know,” said Martin. “Believe me it’s unacceptable, but in some households that’s all they hear, that’s all they know. That’s the language they use.”
Superintendent Traci Moses voiced support for the effort of the administration in backing teachers. “They’re making those parent phones calls, they’re supporting their staff,” she said.
Moses said the school is looking to introduce Habitudes, a character education and leadership curriculum designed to help students free themselves from peer pressure and to develop critical thinking skills that produce better life choices, such as choosing healthy friends, improving study habits and setting goals.
“It’s a matter of using peer pressure in a supportive way,” she said.
Kirvin and Board Member Carl Whaley said they have both been out at the school to see for themselves, and they said at Monday’s workshop that they found students to be well-behaved that particular day.
“If discipline gets better, everything gets better,” said Kirvin. “Anything we can do towards curtailing it, let’s do it.”