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Superintendent Vitti has made an effort to improve discipline

By Greg Sampson

Sunday morning, cup of coffee in hand, I am reading the latest controversy to erupt in the media about Duval County Public Schools. In a whimsical mood, before I get serious in the following paragraphs, I find I am grateful to the judge who for a moment has drawn our attention away from the raging arguments about Common Core standards.

For the purpose of balance, let’s list the steps Nikolai Vitti has taken to improve discipline in our schools:
1.       He has added additional security personnel in secondary schools. My school received an extra person and it has helped.
2.       He created the position of Dean of Discipline at schools. This person is not an administrator loaded with many additional duties; this person is focused on maintaining discipline. Who hasn’t had, or known of teachers who had, a formal observation scheduled but the administrator was called away to handle a problem, their hard work to prepare was wasted, and they had to start over? In theory, having a D of D frees administrators to concentrate on their other responsibilities.
3.       He is changing the philosophy of discipline. It is less about punishment, although that remains a factor, and more about getting kids to understand their behavior and make changes. To that end, D of Ds do more than handle referrals, they initiate positive behavior intervention programs. We did one last week at my school. Was it perfect? No. Some might say it was a disaster—putting the top 20 kids in number of referrals into a room together, all day, to work on behavior issues. Naturally, there were behavior issues. Nevertheless, if a punishment only philosophy worked, we wouldn’t have any more crime, would we? Except Britain found out in the 18th century that hanging pickpockets didn’t stop thievery. We need better ideas. If something doesn’t work, we analyze why, and keep working to help kids change their motivation for acting out.
4.       He has said that we need to think beyond suspension because, when kids are suspended, they are not in their classrooms learning.
5.       He changed ISSP (in school suspension). No longer run by a paraprofessional riding herd on kids all day, ISSP is run by a certified teacher who actually teaches. Part of the day’s agenda is character building/behavior modification.
6.       He has noticed inconsistency in discipline, and that is one of his impetuses toward change. He has demoted and fired administrators who are weak on discipline.
7.       His region chiefs are monitoring school behavior. My region chief paid us a visit Thursday because our referrals and feedback being received by the region office indicated a problem. They are paying attention.
8.       I have heard from the superintendent’s mouth directly that he is not concerned if the number of referrals go up this year if it means we are improving discipline in our schools.

It will take time for these changes to take effect. We complain how “they” want us to change years of neglect and failure in a few short months. We shouldn’t return that attitude toward others. And frankly, let’s admit it, colleagues, a lot of the disruption problems we experience is because kids are bored. Before we blame them and their parents, we need to examine how well we are teaching. Good instruction is at least half the battle in classroom management.

In a follow-up post, I will look at the other side.

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