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New TUSD policy uses positive interventions to keep students in school

At their first scheduled meeting of the school year,  the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees established new policies and policy changes to increase overall student success, one of which will push back exclusionary discipline practices, such as suspension, in favor of positive interventions to correct misbehaving students.

“The goal was to make all student discipline in TUSD positive, proactive, and preventative,” said Director of Student Services Gil Odgen. “The purpose of discipline is to change behavior and not to punish students.”

Instead of immediately suspending students for bad behavior, TUSD developed the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports model, which was mandated as an effort to stage positive interventions for misbehaving students and minimize the amount of time that a student misses instructional time.

“Our number one goal as educators is to maximize instructional time,” said Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Dana Trevethan. “When they are not in school, they are missing out.”

In the 2011 Break Schools’ Rules report, which is an analysis of millions of school and juvenile justice records,  it was revealed that “students who were suspended, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system.”

This is exactly the outcome that TUSD hopes to avoid with the development of the PBIS model. By staging positive interventions for students before considering suspension, the district hopes to keep students in school by looking at what they are doing right, instead of what they are doing wrong.

The model requires that instead of directly sending a misbehaving student to the office, a teacher will first ask the student in question to reflect upon their negative behavior, as well as envision a more suitable response or action. By asking the student to reflect, the PBIS model hopes to change the student’s behavior, rather than just punish them.

It is not until the teacher has done everything in their power to utilize the PBIS model to bring the negative behavior to the student’s attention that they send him or her to the office for further disciplinary measures.

 “The PBIS is an effort to guide and educate students to make better choices and decisions related to appropriate and acceptable behaviors, prior to receiving consequences or developing a pattern of such behaviors,” said Trevethan.

The model, which has been gradually phased in over the last two years, provides a more proactive response to inappropriate type behaviors before considering suspension.  Since the model’s development, the district has already seen a significant decrease in the number of suspensions.

“Suspension doesn’t change behavior, it actually makes it worse,” said Ogden. “We’ve decreased suspension rates significantly because we are choosing to do positive interventions.”

Since the district started the PBIS model in 2012, suspension rates dropped almost 50 percent—from 3,030 total suspensions in 2011-2012 to 1,520 in 2013-2014. In addition, TUSD’s suspension rates are now 50 percent lower than surrounding districts, including Modesto, Oakdale, and Ceres. 

The model also requires that each school site in the district must develop a PBIS Intervention Team. These teams, which have been trained to effectively address troubling students, meet at least once a month to review behavior data, as well as develop and revise school wide expectations.

“The district’s implementation of the PBIS model has high expectations for both the students and the staff,” said Ogden. “We have been working on a number of alternatives to increase student engagement and connectedness to school.”