New initiatives part of Bibb school discipline goals

jmink@macon.comJune 21, 2014 

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Steve Smith

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Now that Bibb County’s interim school superintendent is preparing to stay with the system for up to six more months, he’s eyeing some changes to student discipline.

Besides a focus on detentions and student hearings, part of Steve Smith’s plan involves opening a new center as early as August for students who are falling behind.

The Professional Learning Center would allow students to catch up by taking courses online under the guidance of teachers. That could help halt bad behavior before it starts, he said.

In many cases, students who lose hope of graduating are the ones that are continually in trouble, he said.

“They’ve gotten so far behind they lose all hope of graduating,” he said. “You’ve got to maintain hope.”

Officials hope to receive a grant for the learning center, and Smith would like it to open no later than January 2015. The plan is for small class sizes of no more than 20 students, with a total of about 80 students.

The center, which would be housed at the Hutchings College and Career Charter Academy, would be for students who are at least one year behind. The center also might offer GED classes.

“Those who get behind in school, they are frustrated,” Smith said. “We want to catch them before they become offenders.”

But the new academic center is just one of the changes school officials hope to make.

Smith also wants to decrease the number of unnecessary student hearings and better utilize detentions and Saturday school sessions, instead of solely relying on suspensions.

Compared to suspension, after-school detention is used very little, officials said.

“Detention was most frequently used when I was a principal, and it’s typically the first line of defense,” Smith said. “When they’re suspended, they’re not getting instruction.”

In the last academic year, the Bibb school system had about 7,000 in-school suspensions. The year before there were 8,900. Out-of-school suspensions numbered about 7,600 this past academic year and 7,800 the previous year. Those are the number of suspensions, not the number of individual students who were suspended, said Bruce Giroux, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning.

Most of those suspensions involved repeat offenders, who make up a small percentage of the student body. In fact, about 5,700 students systemwide committed a total of 17,800 offenses last academic year, Giroux said. Those incidents ranged from minor infractions, including anyone who was sent to the principal’s office, to serious offenses.

Another goal is to cut the number of unnecessary disciplinary hearings. At least 200 hearings that take place within the Bibb school system are unwarranted, Smith said. In other words, the offenses are not severe enough to need an in-house court hearing.

The school district has a hearing officer, but one idea is to train some administrators to handle some of the less severe cases. Other districts appoint administrators to act as hearing officers for offenses that are neither severe nor minor. There also should be more direct referrals to alternative school, Smith said.

Another goal is to enforce a new approach to school behavior dubbed Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Teachers are being trained in the program, which is “moving forward at full speed,” Smith said.

The national program focuses on acknowledging and rewarding positive behavior instead of only punishing bad behavior. It’s another effort to stop bad behavior before it begins.

“We’re trying to leave the student with a sense of value,” Smith said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.

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