A district has found some successful strategies for reducing suspensions in school.
At Shidler Elementary School in Oklahoma City, classical music streams through the cafeteria as children carry trays of food. They talk as they eat their breakfast, but there are no loud voices or outbursts. The activities are closely monitored by teachers and parents.
The expectations are conveyed in a message that is delivered repeatedly. Do the Right Thing. At the Right Time. In the Right Place.
“We are directly and explicitly teaching them social expectations and behaviors,” said Principal Armando Ayala. “Little people need to get that modeled and explicitly taught, and so that’s what we’re doing.”
The behavior that teachers and principals model in the Oklahoma City district is compassion, empathy, structure, and direction.
“This is a different social setting then what they’re used to at home. We’re setting the tone and the stage (for their futures),” Ayala continued. “Once they know what the expectations are it’s a lot easier for them to live up to them.” That measured approach to discipline is key for the Oklahoma City Public Schools in turning around the problem of suspending too many black and Hispanic students.
In 2015-2016, the district suspended 500 fewer students. This resulted in 5,000 more days of classroom instruction.
“It’s a small step, but it’s significant that we were able to move in that direction,” said Chuck Tompkins, the director of student climate and student discipline. “We’re trying to make sure suspensions for all students are fair across the board.”