First Report on New School Discipline Program

For anyone over the age of fifty, it may be hard to realize that going to school now involves much more than classroom study, homework and various school activities.

Where we were all once quite comfortable that we were on the same page in terms of behavior patterns and social responsibilities, it has become apparent to an increasing number of teachers and administrators across the country, that consistent social understanding is no longer a given among students.

Starting in 2004 and 2005, teachers and administrators in the Tarrytowns School District were also concluding that their own students were now coming from increasingly diverse backgrounds in terms of positive social behavior. That conclusion has resulted in a new Middle School and High School discipline model called the “Positive Behavioral Intervention Program” (PBIS) instituted this Fall in both schools. The first public report on this new program was given at the January 26th meeting of the School Board. Howard Smith introduced subsequent reports from four members of what could be called the “Founding Committee.” Making up this original group is Ellen Kaplan, School Psychologist; Cheryl Burton, School Social Worker; John Kaste and Alan Alterbaum, Assistant Principals at the Middle School and the High School. The original group, which is rapidly expanding, is assisted by outside consultant, Kimberli Breen, who came to the Schools through the auspices of the Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES.

The mandate given to the original group was to look into all the available research and ongoing discipline programs that were already being developed across the country. For the District’s 7 thru 12 classes, four areas of concern were identified as requiring some positive action on the part of the School system. The first, identified as “Arrival,” concerns itself with starting the school day on time, with appropriate preparation for the day’s work and using appropriate language throughout the day. Second, at the opposite end of the day, is “Dismissal” which includes leaving the building promptly and in an orderly fashion, following directions of staff members, and leaving with all materials needed for use at home. Third, is the “Hallway” with concerns about walking quietly, having agenda books signed for corridor passes, and being in the halls at appropriate times only. Fourth, is the “Cafeteria” which asks students to clear tables of garbage, plus the use of “please” and “thank you” when interacting with staff and others.

Superintendent Smith indicated that these four areas were the most obvious points of departure formulated by the committee with possible future directions being monitored as the program moves forward. Smith also said that both the Middle School and the High School already had over 90 percent of the students on a very acceptable path, but emphasized that supervisors and teachers will continually monitor the development, or lack thereof, of those students that do require specific attention.

When asked where he thought the Schools were in terms of developing this new program, he answered that they “were at the beginning of building a culture that would allow the student to get ready for life after graduation and for life interacting with fellow students and teachers as they pass through the various grades.” When asked what problems, if any, are inherent in this new system, Smith replied that since the program depends on teacher “referrals” for disruptive behavior, teachers must use critical judgement on what is referable and what is not. Estimates from Consultant Breen are that the program would take at least three years of operation to begin developing a pattern that will let students and teachers be fully responsive to the new program, while simultaneously leading them to a culture of mutual respect as they continue through the system.

Consultant Breen concluded her remarks by saying this new addition to academic achievement could end up very soon being mandated by State Education Boards, particularly as diversity in backgrounds and cultures increase. Smith added that there have been questions on the part of some staff members as to whether teachers should actually be doing anything over and above teaching academics. Smith, speaking for the leadership of the new concept, said that for more and more teachers, the answer is clearly becoming “yes.” Integrating helpful behavior for today’s students could very well be a major key to not only the students’ futures but for all of us as we move forward.

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About the Author: Arnold Thiesfeldt