Note: Jeannette Deloya, who describes herself as “proud parent of MMSD graduates, dedicated MMSD school social worker, and responsible taxpayer,” submitted the following as a comment on my previous blog post about the proposed Behavior Education Plan. Since I think Jeanette’s comments deserve attention, I’m copying them here as a separate post.
Ed, I am very grateful for your blog entry, and for the space to voice some of my thoughts regarding this troubling decision. When the BOE approved Ms. Mathiak’s motion (5-2) to maintain the code status quo, they ignored a proposed document that seeks to align policy and practice that has been years in development. This proposal, the Behavior Education Plan, has had the benefit of scrutiny and input by numerous stakeholders, including the BOE.
Please allow me just a few words of history here to illustrate how much time and effort was disregarded, even if done with the best of intentions. The rewriting of the code began over 5 years ago with Mary Gulbrandsen, former MMSD chief of staff, who first sought to review the code through a pedagogical lens, and hoped to consider how the code could be better informed by educational best practices in behavior as well as legal statutes. Over the past 4 years, MMSD’s investment in developing our own behavioral framework in alignment with nationally recognized Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports has brought this work into even clearer focus. The body of research that informs PBIS has been corroborated with our own experience in Madison schools (a point of clarity here: we refer to our own efforts as PBS). Last spring, the initial code revision efforts to bring all things behavior under one ‘roof’ lacked adequate detail and specificity, and the board appropriately sent the code back for further work. The school and district committee assembled this year took the previous team’s work, and gave the proposal the scrutiny and vetting it deserved. The resulting Behavior Education Plan proposed on June 22, 2011 during a special meeting, generated significant discussion and questions on the part of the board, and was subsequently revised and re-submitted for BOE approval on July 25. As you know, the BOE approved the motion to keep the current code with several revisions and never voted on the proposed Behavior Education Plan. I believe this is a lost opportunity.
The proposal seeks to align policy and practice, and does so remarkably well. The proposed Behavior Education Plan has three parts: (1)educational philosophy of teaching behavioral expectations (including rights and responsibilities of all to contribute to safe learning environments); (2) Code of Conduct; and (3) comprehensive behavioral response. The plan that the BOE rejected (in favor of maintaining an out-dated, overly legalistic and slightly altered status quo Code of Conduct) represents work that was informed by the dedicated committee that Ed references in his blog above, as well as by PBIS research, best practices in pedagogy, recent legislative changes in state statutes regarding Bullying in schools, and review of districts’ codes of conduct across the country. Not just countless hours of staff time, but years of educational experience informed the proposed plan.
The resulting behavioral model, called the Behavioral Educational Plan, offers a more comprehensive approach to behavior than we have ever had in the district. As such, it has so much going for it, and is a document that we can continue to be proud of and stand behind. It expresses the desired philosophy of behavioral education in terms of social/emotional learning, detailing rights and responsibilities of all members of our organization to support student learning by appropriate modeling, teaching, practice, reinforcement and accountability. It clearly describes what the behavioral expectations are for all members and then, articulates infractions of these same behavioral expectations in a format that is accessible to students, parents, teachers, administrators and board members alike. And it includes a comprehensive behavioral response chart that more accurately describes our practices in teaching and supporting appropriate replacement behaviors, as well as intervening in and consequencing behaviors that are unsafe, disrespectful, irresponsible and/or illegal.
During the June 22 special BOE meeting when the revised document was presented, Sean Storch, Black Hawk Middle School Principal, and committee member on the district code revision team, offered the following clarification of the plan for the board’s benefit (please see minutes 93 through 100 for the actual video footage– transcribed here for the reader’s convenience):
“The plan (Behavior Education Plan) is about teaching behavior. I’m glad you brought up the learning portion of it, too – because the current code of conduct is a list of things you may not do, must not do, cannot do, or you will be removed from school. That’s all intact (in the proposed document). That, in itself, is not a learning document. It is a deterrent, at best. For some kids, it is not a deterrent. They will continue that behavior, and they will be suspended multiple times, and we are left saying, ‘Well, why didn’t they just learn how to behave better.’ “
“The Behavior Plan is about learning successful behaviors so you don’t do the kinds of things you’re not supposed to do in the Code of Conduct. So, we have a very clear system and structure that’s coherent and consistent that says, ‘This is how you behave successfully and appropriately in healthy ways and safe ways. If you don’t, this is what happens’ (points to code). And, the third part of the plan is the restorative piece – because you can nail a kid, but then, if you don’t welcome them back and rebuild that relationship and teach them, they are likely to re-offend again… So, you teach in a warm manner, you’re incredibly strict with your code, and then you welcome them back and say, ‘I’m sorry you had to take that time off – welcome back and we have a plan for you on how you can be more successful’ – And that’s the idea behind the Behavior Education Plan.”
I believe Mr. Storch’s description to be an exceptionally articulate and accessible statement that sums up the heart of the matter. Teach. Model. Practice. Reinforce. Consequence. Restore. Behavior is complex and cannot be adequately addressed by enhancing and building primarily upon our menu of negative consequences. We have years of data that shows us that this doesn’t work. Our behavior plan must take the teaching of appropriate behavior as seriously as our response to misconduct. Our approach has to be inclusive of classroom practices on one end of the continuum as well as what happens during the expulsion process on the other – and everything in between. This model has to seamlessly flow from one end to the other. It is about teaching behavior, safe schools, and appropriate consequences, while maintaining legal rights related to public education.
What I find so confusing is that I have often heard the community (including the BOE) lament the numbers of students who leave our district through open enrollment, and attribute this ‘exodus’ to perceptions of safety and behavior in our schools. As stated, we are currently beginning year 4 in our development of PBS – meant to address this very concern! And it’s not just to keep students here, it’s to teach all of our students what they will need to ‘thrive as global citizens’ and to do it well. This model shows incredible potential and excellent returns in terms of evaluation. Yes, we have a ways to go – we should have a long way to go. Educational reform requires that we are thoughtful, provide adequate professional training and support, evaluate, inform stakeholders, revise and repeat process. The district has been building capacity to do this in terms of behavior for some time. I ask the board to support this very promising work, and to allow capable leaders and practitioners the time and resources for implementation.
Ed, I respectfully request that the board reconsider the decision made on July 25 to ignore the proposed Behavior Education Plan in favor of maintaining the current code with revisions. Furthermore, I respectfully suggest for the board’s consideration that the BOE direct the committee to address the remaining concerns in the document, and allow the district to move forward with operationalizing the plan. To do otherwise is to throw away years of research, education, collaboration, input, negotiation, and experience by teachers, administrators, students and parents who have informed the process. It’s time our district policy caught up with best practice.
Please feel free to share my thoughts with your BOE colleagues.
August 2, 2011, Jeannette Deloya, proud parent of MMSD graduates, dedicated MMSD school social worker, and responsible taxpayer.