Troup County School System looks at discipline programs, enforcement

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

By Matthew Strother

LaGRANGE — The Troup County School System has implemented a new state program for discipline in six schools as an attempt to improve safety and proactively handle students with discipline problems.

“We are very aware that there was concern in our community last year about student discipline in some of our schools,” said school system Superintendent Cole Pugh during a Board of Education caucus meeting Monday. “We have taken several steps to address those concerns.”

Lat year, a 15 year old brought an unloaded .22-caliber handgun to LaGrange High School on Nov. 20, which school administrators found after searching the student and two others who they said smelled of marijuana, according to a LaGrange police report. Another incident involved a 10 year old who brought a pocket knife to Whitesville Road Elementary School on Nov. 18 and allegedly threatened to “shank” a fellow classmate, according to a police report, but then said he was “only joking.”

No one was harmed in either incident. The LHS student was arrested and charged and the elementary student faced administrative action, according to prior reports.

Pugh said the system’s No. 1 step for addressing discipline is implementing the state’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, program at six schools. The program is designed to provide training to school administrators to create a consistent framework for addressing disciplinary problems.

“We think it’s a good pilot to start this year,” he said.

Karen Cagle, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Troup County School System, told the Board of Education that the program should help school administrators take steps to not just punish, but prevent future behavioral problems.

Improving student achievement is also the system’s top goal for the program, Cagle said, by helping curb disrupting behavior. She noted that there needs to be more discussion about its second goal.

“Maybe sometimes we’re negligent to talk about (the goal) to provide a safe, secure and wholesome learning environment,” she said. “But without accomplishing (goal) number two, number one (the goal to improve student achievement) will be severely impacted.”

Cagle noted there are policies set on an overall system level by the Board of Education and procedures that are implemented on an individual school level. Policies can be incongruous among different schools on handling discipline, which Cagle said is to cater to each school’s “culture,” but policies should be consistently and fairly enforced by personnel at each school.

Part of PBIS includes making a list of expected behaviors, or “expectation matrix,” at each school that defines how students should act and behave in different areas and situations. The goal is to ensure students understand what is expected of them.

Other disciplinary measures include the school system this year budgeting expenses that included adding two teachers and paraprofessionals for alternative class assignments at elementary schools, Pugh said. The system also added two emotional behavior disorder teachers and paraprofessionals for self-contained classrooms for children with behavioral disorders.

HOPE Academy, the system’s alternative school, is used for students who have continued serious infractions, Cagle said. Part of the budgeted positions for the new behavioral classrooms and teachers at elementary schools will provide a similar method for younger students and prevent the behavior before they reach the higher grades.

The school system also has 11 behavior specialists that go to different schools every other day and talk to students with issues, develop a relationship with them and try to help them on a one-on-one basis, Cagle added. Each specialist has a caseload of up to 20 students.

“We would be negligent not to recognize that if we have issues, there’s a reason we have those, and what’s causing that and what can we do to prevent it,” Cagle said. “Managing student behavior is not something that you snap your fingers and it happens overnight. It is an ongoing process … It takes ongoing conversation. It takes ongoing professional learning.”

The implementation process for PBIS is tiered in three levels, according to a press release from the school system. The first level is designed to introduce the concept schoolwide while the next levels “drill down” to individual behavior over time.

“The first year of implementation is not so much about the classroom behavior; it is about building behavior expectations,” stated Jacqueline Jones, director of student services and special programs, in a written statement. “What do we expect in the lunchroom, gym, hallways and other transition areas? We have to teach that and communicate our expectations to the students before moving to other tiers.”

This summer, principals, teachers, team coordinators and district employees participated in an interactive three-day training session led by Mark Fynewever of the Georgia Department of Education, according to a school system press release. He told the group that more than 19,000 schools in the United States are implementing PBIS and many Georgia schools are already on board, the release states.

Matthew Strother is editor at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.