School suspensions down dramatically in Pawtucket

School suspensions down dramatically in Pawtucket

DiCenso looks to add supports

PAWTUCKET – School officials are seeing a huge drop in the number of suspensions across the district after spending the past year boosting efforts to keep students in school.

Supt. Patti DiCenso told The Breeze she met with principals prior to the current school year to address a situation where too many students were being sent home for infractions she does not believe are worthy of suspension. The problem was especially prevalent at the elementary level, she said.

The results show that over the course of just one year of doing things differently, suspension rates have dropped dramatically, said DiCenso.

“The data is incredibly powerful,” she said.

For the 2014-2015 school year, Pawtucket saw 486 suspensions at the elementary school level, 972 suspensions at the middle school level, and 726 suspensions at the high school level.

For comparison, the total number of suspensions for elementary students from September 2015 to February 2016 of this school year was nine, compared with 259 from September 2014 to February 2015, a 97 percent drop.

At the middle school level for those same months, the total number of suspensions went from 486 to 163, a 66 percent drop.

At the high school level, the number went from 444 suspensions to 165, a 63 percent decline.

One of the biggest factors for the high number of suspensions was that teachers and principals often didn’t feel like they had the support staff in place to keep students in school if they required discipline, DiCenso said.

As a result of that need, DiCenso is proposing a school budget with an approximately $600,000 increase for next year, about half of which is needed to support staff in keeping students in school.

The decision to not suspend students for some infractions put stress on the system, said DiCenso. Suspending students, especially at the elementary level, is a symptom of the lack of tools to support staff, she said. Suspensions became the tool.

According to DiCenso, some elementary schools were seeing suspension rates higher than Shea High School and Tolman High School when the two high schools first went into state intervention status four years ago.

During a week-long professional development session last year, DiCenso outlined her goal to cut out suspension as a consequence unless an incident was related to weapons, drugs, or some type of scenario where students and staff were in danger.

“If it’s not that egregious, then we need to have options other than suspension,” she said.

For elementary schools like Baldwin and Potter Burns, where there are no assistant principals, DiCenso added some support staffing this year to help out with problems at least once a week. Across the district, she asked principals to patrol the hallways and classrooms to get students used to seeing them and offer more support to students and staff.

Getting leaders into classrooms and engaged with learning was a move away from a school culture that really had never looked at changing the way suspensions were doled out, said DiCenso. One 1st-grader had been suspended 25 times during kindergarten because he wasn’t able to control himself and staff didn’t feel like he could conform, she said. During those out-of-school suspensions, no work was sent home with the student, meaning he was getting no instruction.

“How did it help in terms of him being ready for 1st grade?” she said.

DiCenso said that teachers haven’t had a lot of options other than sending students to the office, and principals haven’t had many options other than sending them home. With more support staff in place to provide social and emotional support, de-escalate situations, and get students ready to return the classrooms, she envisions a system where staff and students are adequately supported.

Up to this point, when a part-time social worker hasn’t been in the building to help, students have often been sent home. Some schools have no support staff, said DiCenso.

At a time when everyone is being evaluated based on scores and other criteria, teachers and staff don’t want to send students home, she added.

“They can’t learn if they’re not in school,” she said.

Ron Beaupre, president of the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance, has been a champion of the effort to provide more support for staff and keep students in school, said DiCenso, and teachers have also gotten behind the effort.

DiCenso’s increased budget will go to the Pawtucket School Committee on May 10. The City Council will then consider the proposal.

Comments

Im sure the cops in the schools had nothing to do with it