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Trying Attention Instead of Detention at Springs School

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 09:37

Training for mentors, coaches, community teaches calming strategies

Christine Cleary, at right, the Springs School principal, introduced a new behavioral support program on Tuesday.
Christine Sampson

"When a child doesn't know how to read, we teach them how to read," Christine Cleary, the Springs School principal, said during Tuesday's school board meeting. "When a child doesn't know how to multiply, we teach them how to multiply. When a child doesn't know how to behave, we punish them. We have to teach them how to behave."

Her comments helped convince the school board to approve money for a new after-school program focused on restorative practices in school discipline, an approach that helps kids learn methods to handle tough situations before they escalate. Ms. Cleary, who developed the program with Josh Odom, who is in his first year as assistant principal in Springs, described it as "after-school attention" rather than "detention."

The approach is necessary, they said, because teachers and administrators are seeing more kids acting out this year. They have attributed this to the lingering academic, social, and emotional impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We needed an extra level of support" before resorting to detention or suspension, Mr. Odom explained Tuesday. "Essentially, this is a time that allows students to reflect on their behavior, problem-solve through role play . . . and create plans to restore the harm that's been done."

In the program, there will be up to two sessions per week after school through the end of June 2022. The board approved spending up to $4,500 on it. To be facilitated by two teachers, Michael Biggs, a social studies teacher, and Rachel Cook, a special education teacher. the focus will be on middle school students for now, with the possibility of adding aspects to help younger children in the future.

With at least 20 teachers in attendance at the meeting, Dave Conlon, a board member, said he would like to hear their thoughts on the new initiative.

"It's a fair statement to say we all are happy that there's a proactive approach going on," Kristy LaMonda, a special education teacher who is co-president of the Springs Teachers Association, replied. "I think the beginning of the year started off with a little bit of 'whack-a-mole.' It's wonderful to get the support, having the opportunity, time, and space to really teach these behaviors. . . . I'm very excited."

Mr. Odom said he will evaluate students who need this in consultation with their teachers and parents. Consequences of poor behavior are still important, he said, adding that "if it's a repetitive action, then we might need to go a different way."

Ms. Cleary said it would be the last step before a student's suspension. "A lot of times there's a lot more emotional baggage attached to that behavior," she said.

On Tuesday, the school board also approved a before-school extra-help program for students in the English as a new language program. It would also be twice weekly for a full hour.

The board also approved increasing the rates of pay for substitute teachers, teacher aides, and custodians. Debra Winter, the district superintendent, said the change will bring Springs more in line with what other districts are paying for these services, or even higher than other districts' pay rates. Certified teacher and teacher aide substitutes will earn $175 per day, up from $150, and uncertified professionals will earn $135 per day, up from $110. Substitute custodians will now earn $25 per hour, up from $19.



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