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District to address discipline issues at DHS

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Dickinson Public Schools school resource officer incidents, 2015-2019. Data provided by Dickinson Police Department.

During school board discussions about the implementation of career academies, one topic kept re-entering the conversation — discipline issues at Dickinson High School.

School board member and captain for Dickinson Police Department, David Wilkie, said safety and discipline was his top priority.

"When my kid tells me there’s certain places in that high school that he can’t go at certain times, that’s really troubling. When he says he can’t use certain bathrooms at certain times of the day, or there’s places where he knows that even teachers don’t feel comfortable going, that’s an issue, and that’s an issue that needs to be dealt with," he told his fellow board members.

Assistant Principal Jay Hepperle told the school board of a survey of students, parents and staff that they conducted.

"The question specifically was if you’ve noticed any majorly disruptive behavior from students in the last five days of school. A third of our teachers said yes, and it’s problematic because they don’t want to go out there because sometimes those kids are so bad. It’s the hallways specifically that we’re trying to address."

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The number of incidents Dickinson Police Department school resource officers have responded to at the high school has increased every year since 2015 — from 77 in the 2015-2016 school year to 196 in the 2018-2019 school year. So far this year, SRO Brandon Stockie has responded to 123 incidents at the school.

Compared to the other schools in the district, the high school sees the largest percentage of incidents in the district. For the current school year, 51% of incidents came from the high school. Last year, the number was 44%.

Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris told the school board that correcting a child's behavior long-term is a process.

"One of the challenges that we have with discipline … oftentimes someone would send a kiddo to me and say he did something in class and we would work through that issue. They would go back. What’s the teacher hoping? The kid’s fixed. There will never be another issue. Well, principals don’t fix kids," Harris said.

He said they need to identify what is preventing the students from being successful and help them develop the skills they need to be successful.

"Unfortunately, that takes time ... When we’re on our last straw in a classroom because the kid has been on our last nerve, we’re experiencing severe empathy fatigue. We don’t want to buy into a process of skill development. We just want the kid fixed, and that’s not the way it always works," Harris said.

To help students develop these skills, the district has given every school principal two objectives for the school year — implement a program called Response to Intervention (RTI) and become certified level one in High Reliability Schools (HRS), which includes that the faculty, staff, students, parents and community of a school perceive it as safe and orderly.

"RTI at Work is not new to our district ... What we're doing now is providing a focus and an opportunity for our buildings to implement it with fidelity," Harris said.

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Every school will have three teams: collaborative, leadership and intervention that support one another and create a collective responsibility for the students' educational and behavioral well-being.

"The building leadership team is responsible for working with teachers in determining and identifying those essential behaviors that every kid needs to know and be able to do, and how are we going to teach those kids and communicate those behaviors to every single kid," Harris said. "When we have kiddos who demonstrate that they can't quite do it ... that building leadership team is responsible for identifying those interventions ... to help those kids develop those behavioral skills."

Harris said there is a population of students at DHS whose behavior goes beyond misbehavior.

"They have some behavior that is effectively influencing or detracting from the high school’s ability as a whole to meet the educational needs of all students. What do we do with them?" he said.

Superintendent Shon Hocker told the school board that the administration met with the juvenile justice system regarding a possible partnership starting in January 2020 to establish a success academy for high school kids with "more significant discipline problems."

"Give them a last chance. Give them an opportunity. We don’t really prefer to expel them today, but that’s the path that we’re on right now," Hocker said.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONDICKINSON HIGH SCHOOLDICKINSON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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