'Ladder of discipline'

CMS discipline plan has rewards, consequences

A few years ago when an earthquake hit Northwest Colorado, Craig Middle School secretary Beth Gilchrist wasn't aware of it because students were making their way to lunch, rushing to be the first in line.

This year, she is not always sure when the lunch bell rings.

But changes in the CMS code of conduct, geared toward making the school safer and more conducive to learning, already are having tangible results.

A lack of chaos at lunchtime is just one aspect, the result of color-coded "Dog tags," named so because of the school's mascot the Bulldog. Students line up based on the color of their Dog tag, which allows all students to have their turns at the front of the line no matter where their last class was.

Like a driver's license, having a Dog tag is a privilege that students who exhibit exemplary behavior get to keep. Those who are late to class, use profanity, lie, cut in line or commit other violations risk losing their Dog tags for that week.

Eighth-grader Kyle Fay isn't bothered by most of the new rules, but he does wish students didn't lose their Dog tags after only one infraction.

He's been at the end of the lunch line all week after being late to a class. He also didn't get to take advantage of "privilege time," which is 28 minutes that students who still have their Dog tags get to use as free time Friday afternoon.

Instead, Fay and others who committed minor infractions spend their time in guided study hall.

Fay does admit that the new system has cut down on bullying and cutting in line.

"(The new rules) are somewhat OK," he said.

Brandon Pluym is at CMS for his first year, so he doesn't have much to compare the school rules to, but he said there doesn't seem to be much bullying in the school.

Principal Steve Wiersma said the new rules were prompted by input from students and parents who ranked CMS the lowest in the district as a place where students feel safe.

School staff members also said that the existing system didn't give them specific means to deal with many situations.

In the past, a student who cussed would be reprimanded and asked not to do it again, this year that behavior causes the student to lose a privilege for a week.

"I don't feel it's necessarily stricter," Wiersma said. "We have more clearly defined rules."

There are four levels of infractions, with the fourth being extreme, illegal, violent or criminal activities. A level one violation costs a student one point; level two, three points; level three, nine points; and level four, 15 to 45 points.

Students are issued a grade based on conduct. For example, nine to 11 points earns a student a D.

Students can earn back points by charting no infractions for a minimum of three weeks.

"We made some changes, and I think they're working well," Wiersma said. "We haven't had any fights here this year."

He expects grumbling from students about any rule changes but thinks that once they get used to the new system, that will be minimized.

"I don't like it," eighth-grader Jory Steele said. "I just think (the rules) are too strict, but it's already gotten normal for me."

Three parents have visited Wiersma to discuss the changes and he encouraged them, and any others, to attend a Parent Advisory Committee meeting Monday, during which the new rules, and the need for them, will be discussed. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the CMS library.

"I am amazed that the furor is such that it is, because I don't think people have actually been here and have seen what we're doing," Wiersma said. "I hope people will give this a chance and see how it works and give us our input where it doesn't."

He expects the new "Ladder of Discipline" should spark accountability among students and help teachers meet the school's goals of having high levels of achievement in a safe, quality environment.

"Our goal isn't to punish, our goal is to teach," he said.

Safety is one of the school's top concerns, which was the reason that students can no longer take their lunch breaks on the lawn in front of the school as they have in the past. Instead, they are restricted to a grass and pavement area in the back.

The front of the school faces a busy highway and is across the street from a convenience store. Monitoring such a large area with no physical boundaries takes more staff than CMS has, Wiersma said.

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