CMS evaluating discipline code

Focus shifting to positive support

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Nine months after implementing rule changes that launched a firestorm of controversy and record attendance at a parent meeting, Craig Middle School officials are re-evaluating.

Changes are in the future, Principal Steve Wiersma said.

"We're trying to focus on the positive, the behavior we expect rather than the behavior we fear we'll get."

Many parents were full of questions, and some full of criticism at the beginning of the school year when a stricter code of discipline was enacted. Honor cards dubbed "Dog Tags" were issued to students. Good behavior meant students kept their Dog Tags and were entered into a weekly prize drawing for a coveted position in the lunch time. Breaking the rules meant losing a Dog Tag and being last in the lunch line.

Officials also instituted a conduct-based grade system. Violations were categorized one to four depending on their severity, and each level had a specific number of points assigned to it. Students lost points based on the infraction, and those points equated to a citizenship grade.

The point was to give staff members specific means to deal with rule-breaking.

Parent Eric Langstaff was a vocal critic of the policy changes, and he still is opposed to them.

"It's not letting kids be kids," he said, giving as an example the prohibition against being late for class.

"I was tardy plenty of times when I was growing up," he said.

Langstaff took his concerns to the state school board and was told that he needed to have solid evidence the rules were affecting his daughter's education. He mailed a report card showing his daughter dropped from an A/B student to a C student.

"She's so worried about messing up on her Dog Tag that the important part of education is out the window."

Although the rules aren't likely to change much, school officials have had a year to test the program and are looking to adapt it to focus more on positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement.

"We're moving more and more toward a positive behavior support system, which focuses on the 80 percent of students who are giving us the behavior we want," he said. "We're really just looking to tweak the things we're doing."

Endorsed by the Colorado Department of Education, the Positive Behavior Support program provides a common approach to discipline with positively stated expectations for students and staff.

"I think we made some good steps last year, but we do have some weaknesses," Wiersma said. "We want to try to present a friendly front to those students who deserve it, and most of them do."

Positive Behavior Support advocates positive and proactive interventions for the 80 percent to 90 percent of students who demonstrate few behavioral or academic problems, targeted group interventions for the 5 percent to 10 percent of students who demonstrate at-risk behavior, and intensive, individual interventions for the 1 percent to 5 percent of students who have severe academic or behavioral problems.

One of its main principals is continuity -- in rewards and procedures for discouraging rule-breaking behavior.

The program eliminates the "one strike and you're out" philosophy currently in existence with the Dog Tag system.

"(Our current program) discounts the fact that students this age are going to make mistakes, and that's not always a bad thing," Wiersma said. "We'll still have Dog Tags, but we'll use them differently."

The specifics of his plan have not yet been ironed out, Wiersma said, and discussed by the faculty.

There are at least two students who will be glad to see changes.

"I hated them at the beginning of the year, and I still hate them," seventh-grader Mitch Sammons said.

He said that students came from schools and home environments where they're used to being warned that they were crossing the line before being punished.

His friend, Kyle Fay, didn't like the Dog Tags at the beginning of the school year, but is now becoming a bit more ambivalent.

"I don't really care much about them anymore because it's almost the end of the year," he said.

But, it also may be because he's not lost his Dog Tag as much recently as he did at the beginning of the school year. Fay maintains, though, that's not because he's learned to display more positive behavior. Rather it's because he doesn't get caught.

"It's not so bad anymore because were, like, used to it now, and the teachers don't nag us as much," he said.

He's not as afraid of the consequences as much, either. Fay said he often forgets his card at lunchtime anyway.

Wiersma plans to ensure that whatever changes are made are understood by students and that they start the school year well-versed in the types of behavior that are expected.

"Be respectful, be responsible and be safe" will be the mantra.

"I think before we're done, kids will think of those words in their sleep," Wiersma said. "We're not talking about what they shouldn't be doing, we're talking about what they should be doing. I think we started that way this year, but we missed our mark."

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