Thursday, January 5, 2012

What is going on at Hoover School?

I recently received this email from the parent of another child at our elementary school:
Hi, Chris.

I wonder if you’ve heard anything about kids at Hoover being suspended. I’ve just talked to a third parent who has mentioned it as something they've endured OR something they have been threatened with (via a letter, of course). In all three cases, the interaction with the administration at Hoover was dismal.

OK, here’s what I want to know: If PBIS is about POSITIVE behavior support, why are eight and nine year old kids getting SUSPENDED at Hoover? Isn’t suspension a punitive reaction? I keep hearing that it is a district policy but on what grounds are kids this age being suspended from school, losing that precious instructional time? In the cases I’ve heard of, the kids involved have been rough (hitting on the playground) or disruptive (walking around the classroom) but I cannot FATHOM how out-of-school suspension is the answer. Do you think we’re not hearing about it because those of us who are outraged at this idea have kids who don’t get in that kind of trouble?? I’m tempted to go straight to [Superintendent] Murley and ask about this.

Have you heard anything?
The school definitely seems to have intensified its (already over-the-top) focus on behavior this year, as I’ve described, for example, here and here. I have also heard more reports of disciplinary incidents and notes being sent home to parents. My sense is that the kids have experienced these changes as anything but “positive.” I think this parent’s question is a good one.

Update here.


Cindy M. said...

I resisted posting, but felt this was a great opportunity to address the confusion. Usually, when one parent is asking there are several who feel the same way. When I was asked "what is going on at Hoover?", I was puzzled. "What do you mean?" and I was shown this recent post. I sighed. Once again, Hoover is misunderstood.

The Hoover administration has been working hard to communicate it's IPBS initiatives and discipline policy (in letters and newsletters)this year. It's important to realize having a discipline policy which includes suspension doesn't mean that minor infractions result in suspension. It does mean that a pattern of poor, inappropriate, unsafe behavior MAY (eventually) result in suspension. It's a last resort. I hope that parents and administrators embrace that Hoover has a action plan in place in order to involve parents in the discipline process, keep children and classrooms safe, and ultimately know that there are consequences for poor, disruptive, and unsafe behavior. I am a Hoover Parent and involved in the PTA and feel strongly that this policy is a positive when understood. I encourage parents to attend PTA meeting regularly so you can get your questions answered and concerns addressed, and also offer your feedback. And, come and meet Principal Bradford during her open-discussion the last Thursday of each month from 7:30-8:00 AM
I am proud to be part of the Hoover Family and know that my Hoover Hawks have STAR Behavior because of the great staff, teachers,environment, and policies at Hoover.
Cindy Meis

Chris said...

Cindy – Thanks for commenting! I certainly don’t disagree that a school needs to have an approach to disciplinary issues. But there are different possible approaches, and they reflect different values and different conceptions of education. This year, Hoover appears to be intensifying its focus on behavior and discipline to the point where it is creating an increasingly negative atmosphere and causing the kids to see the adults at the school (especially the non-classroom-teachers) as their adversaries. Are the discipline problems at Hoover so serious that this is necessary? We’ll never know unless the issue gets discussed.

I wish part of that discussion was about the values that the school is modeling through its handling of behavior and discipline issues. In my view, the school is modeling very authoritarian values with its constant focus on behavior and on unquestioning obedience. I think it is also creating an unpleasant and inhospitable place for kids. The atmosphere is the lunchroom, for example, is indefensible. The constant scrutiny of the kids’ behavior; the emphasis on material rewards for being quiet and compliant; the tickets and weekly lotteries; the frequent use of candy as a reward for good behavior (in violation of school district policy); the “expectations” assemblies and the omnipresent “expectations” signs, even in the bathrooms; the drill-sergeant approach to lunch supervision; the “zero voice level” single-file hallway lines; the use of collective punishments; the encouragement (requirement?) of the kids to report each other’s misbehavior; the twisting of words like “courage” and “respect” for the sake of keeping the kids quiet and obedient; and now the apparent increase in incident reports and suspensions – is that really the discipline system we need to keep the students safe and promote genuine learning? Even if the hallways are a little quieter – is it worth it?

I think the PTA is great as a service organization, which seems to be its primary mission. (Readers: Cindy is currently the president of our PTA, though I assume she is speaking on her own behalf here.) When it comes to school policies and practices, though, my concern is that the PTA is too conflict-avoidant and too ready to support the school’s administration in whatever it chooses to do. When the school started PBIS, the PTA was there to support it. If next year, the school decides that PBIS is all wrong, the PTA will be there to support that. If the PTA is going to be more than a service organization, I think it should exercise more independent judgment and serve as a potential check on what’s going on in the place where our kids spend a large portion of their lives.

One example: When the school started PBIS, the PTA posted the school’s promotional materials for the program on its blog. When I asked that the PTA link to my letter making arguments against the program, it declined to. As a result, anyone reading the PTA blog heard only one side of the issue – the administration’s. How does that serve the parents (or the kids)?

Karen W said...

I think the question of whether all this is necessary is a good one. My elementary school never had behavior initiatives and assemblies and rewards for good behavior, perhaps because they had generally reasonable expectations for 5-12 year old children. We ran around on the playground until being called to line up and walk into class. Had plenty of time for lunch and had morning, lunch, and afternoon recess. We were expected to not be disruptive but weren't prohibited from talking quietly as we walked to the library/PE/music/cafeteria. I also don't recall lessons lasting longer than 25 minutes.

Now I see in the Governor's latest education plan a proposal for struggling students to be provided 90-minute blocks of reading instruction. Do education policy makers remember that students are children as young as 5 years old? How can a 5-8 year old be reasonably expected to pay attention for 90 minutes at a stretch? Or be silent in the hallways and the bathrooms? Or eat lunch without joking around with their friends? Maybe Hoover administrators could work less hard at behavior initiatives if they set more reasonable and age-appropriate expectations for student behavior in the first place.

Chris said...

Karen -- From what I've seen, you've hit on the taboo. The schools seem unwilling ever to question whether the expectations themselves are necessary, age-appropriate, or driven by concern for the whole child instead of just his or her test score.

I don't have any great nostalgia for my school days, but thank God I never had to put up with the kind of obsessive behavior management that goes on now.

KD said...

I agree with Karen W's comments about developmentally appropriate behavior expectations, especially for the younger grades.

As for Cindy's you think the PTA should serve as a place for discussion of school issues, like PBIS? As for Chris's comments about PTAs being too conflict avoidant, I'd have to say this has also been the experience at times at our school. I don't think the PTA is really serving families if it is just there to function as a cheerleader of sorts and not address issues of concerns to families.

FedUpMom said...

Wow, speaking of the PTA, I would love to see a real parents' group that would allow for free discussion of the issues. In our school, the PTA is much like yours -- it's mostly about raising funds and "supporting the school". Parents really don't have a place to discuss problems with the school.

Unknown said...

Just testing threaded commenting on this blog. Please ignore.

Chris said...

Readers: The comments look funny now because Blogger sprung a big change on us without, apparently, testing it enough first. There's no way to change the settings back, and we just have to hope that Blogger fixes the problem. The idea was to "improve" the comments by allowing threaded replies. I prefer it the old way; as a reader, when there are new comments, I don't like to have to hunt for them. Anyway, I hope they will at the very least restore the font size and line spacing to what it was before.

Thanks, Bruce Polderman, if you're working on the problem!

Mandy said...

I wish there was an actual discussion about the discipline policy at Hoover. I do not feel like I'm heard. I keep getting PBIS explained to me again and again, but not even an acknowledgement of my point of view. I do plan on attending the "coffee" with the principal and I'm hopeful that there can be an actual exchange of ideas instead of treating me like if I just UNDERSTOOD the policy I would think it was just dandy.
I think that being vocal about things that I think can be improved upon and advocating for my kids doesn't mean that I am not supportive of the school and the teachers. I don't feel those things are mutually exclusive.
I have to admit that I've been to only a limited number of PTA meetings and like Chris, I agree the PTA is a valuable service organization and provides a lot of benefits to the school through fundraising and some community building among the school families and our broader community. I don't however feel it's the proper forum to discuss district and even individual school policies. In fact, I've been told as much. One of my big frustrations with the district is finding that place. So far Chris' blog is the best place I've found to at least have a discussion.

Chris said...

Thanks, Mandy. I agree about the lack of dialogue -- as opposed to just assertions -- about Hoover's discipline policy. Cindy mentions how hard the school's administration has been working to "communicate" its behavior and discipline initiatives. I don't entirely agree; if parents are having their kids threatened with suspension and expulsion by letter without even a phone call, I think there are some communication issues.

But the main problem isn't how they're communicating, it's what they're communicating -- and you're right, there seems to be an incomprehension that anyone could object to their obsessive focus on behavior, and their over-the-top discipline, as long as they fully explain it. In fact, the constant "explanation" of these policies -- to both the parents and the kids -- is part of the problem. Almost every newsletter has contained a "Principal's Piece" focused on behavior and discipline, often giving unsolicited advice to parents on how to discipline their kids at home. The kids are constantly subject to signs, assemblies, rewards, etc., about their behavior, and incident reports appear to be getting sent home to parents in unprecedented numbers. The aggregate effect is to send the message that school is primarily about behavior and discipline, and that quietness and obedience are the highest values.

The overemphasis on behavior and discipline is exactly what people are complaining about, so "communicating" about it ad nauseum only compounds the problem.

Non-sequitur: I am now officially being driven crazy by the new small, cramped typeface in the comments. Curse you, Blogger! I may have to switch over to Pop-Up comments until the problem is fixed, or until I jump ship to WordPress, whichever comes first.