The following is a guest post by AASA member, Susan Enfield, Superintendent of Highline Public Schools (WA), who attended the AASA/CDF Summit on School Discipline in October 2016.Watch this video, from the Summit, where Superintendent Enfield discusses how suspension should be used as a last resort in school discipline.
During the 2011-12 school year, Highline Public Schools out-of-school suspended or expelled students 2107 times. The most common offense? Defiance. As the district’s new superintendent I knew we had to take action. Fortunately, our staff, school board and community were ready to do just that, so as part of our strategic planning process in 2012-13 we identified six bold goals worthy of our students. One of those was the elimination of out-school-suspensions and expulsions except when critical for staff and student safety which put us on our path to rethinking school discipline in Highline.
While there is ample research that points to why out-of-school suspension is not a successful intervention or deterrent when it comes to student behavior, what was even more compelling for us were our own students. When asked, they told us that suspension simply didn’t work. Furthermore, we knew from our own data that even one out-of-school suspension increased the likelihood that a student would ultimately drop out, meaning that loss of time in school potentially meant the loss of a high school diploma.
Knowing we had to find ways to get to the root cause of a student’s behavior rather than simply punishing them for it, we invested in Re-engagement Specialists at each of our middle and high schools to lead the development of alternatives to suspension that would keep students in school, while also providing appropriate consequences for their actions and needed interventions and support. As with any new strategy, we have experienced both successes and failures; this is paradigm-shifting work that is not without its criticism or controversy. It is, however, the right thing to do for our students. We have learned that communicating, constantly, with our families and community is essential so we continue to get better at telling our story, an example of which you can see in this video.
Our promise in Highline Public Schools is to ensure that every student is known by name, strength and need and graduates prepared for college, career and citizenship. To deliver on this promise we are committed to keeping our students in school and creating a culture where staff and students alike feel safe, supported and challenged.