In the debate about charter school discipline, the voices of people who work in charter schools deserve more attention. Many charter leaders have improved their approach to discipline to help more kids learn while reducing exclusionary practices like suspension and expulsion.
You can hear from some of them through a set of video case studies recently released by the National Charter Schools Resource Center (NCSRC). All of the featured schools have strong academic results and serve high proportions of low-income students.
We found that these schools drew from research-based models available to all schools, adapting them to suit their own school’s needs.
Here are some of the things they told us:
Health Sciences and Middle College (San Diego)
Dominique Smith, director of student support/vice principal:
We realized our philosophy wasn’t matching our discipline, and we said, ‘If we’re so much about the students and focusing on who they are and what they want to be, how is us sending them out of school and kicking them out of class fulfilling that dream?’
After working on these issues, Dominique said:
Our attendance rate is high; our students want to be here; they respect what is going to happen; and they know that if they are having a hard day and they do make a poor choice, they are not going to be excluded from the school.
Ian Pumpian, CEO and president:
We had established a ‘do no harm’ pillar as a way of developing a basic concept of how we expected every adult and every child in the school to behave. A few years later, when we started studying restorative practices, it gave us a system to really teach, and put into place procedurally, all the things we intended when we had that ‘do no harm’ pillar.
We provided a lot of resources around professional development to understand and support restorative practices. But the cost of not doing that, in terms of dollars, in terms of school effectiveness, in terms of school culture, is far greater. It’s the best expense I’ve ever gone to our board to ask for.
Rowe Elementary School (Chicago)
Michael Rodrigo, dean of social-emotional learning and culture:
Discipline really sets the tone for the whole school…We know that nothing is more important in a school than its culture. My advice is: invest highly in your students. Invest in relationships. The number one factor in improving school culture and discipline is having those relationships with your students.
New Orleans College Prep Network (New Orleans)
Ben Kleban, founder and former CEO:
We have evolved quite a bit because we really try to be responsive to what works for kids. When we started out as a network you could have described our schools as more of the ‘no-excuses/zero-tolerance’ type of approach. What we found pretty quickly was that that worked for a certain group of students, but there was another group of students that were not responding to that approach.
Amanda Aiken, principal of Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep:
Ninety-eight percent of our students are living in poverty. About 65 to 70 percent of our students had experienced trauma within the past two years. Those numbers just created a sense of urgency…Five days a week students are getting some type of social-emotional wellness through community building.
Really we just decided to prioritize it, and we decided that 30 minutes a day was really important, and actually that 30 minutes a day is saving us time in the long run, when we are able to be proactive in our discipline rather than reactive.
KIPP Bay Area Schools
Rick Zappa, head of school and character development:
To do this right takes three to five years—to get the systems, to get the buy-in, and then it takes forever to keep it going. School leaders who want to implement this in their school have to put a stake in the ground, they have to own it, they have to expect a process to occur.
It’s not like ‘Let me give you this brochure, you read it and you know what it’s about.’ The restorative process is about doing things with people; and that takes time, patience, and education.
There are more materials available to help anyone interested in implementing alternative discipline strategies.
The NCSRC has produced: a report that explains the context and results of the featured schools, the particular models they have adopted, and the lessons they learned while implementing their chosen approach; a toolkit that provides resources and materials schools can use in their own efforts to identify, craft and implement stronger disciplinary practices; and a webinar with researcher, authorizer and school perspectives on alternative discipline. Please check them out.