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District exploring expanded support services

In an effort to maintain high-quality educational environments for students, Norman Public School District officials embarked on a proactive project earlier this year to evaluate the climate and culture of schools across the district.

A School Climate and Culture Task Force was created by Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano and tasked with identifying areas where the district can expand support services to address the needs of the district’s growing and diverse student population.

“Positive school climate and culture has been the focus of national discussions,” Siano said. “It is our responsibility to ensure our students are learning in environments that are safe, inclusive and respectful. This proactive effort will help us look ahead and identify areas where we can offer more robust services for our students.”

The task force discussed variety of topics including behavior management systems, professional development programs, implications of childhood trauma on learning and student discipline procedures.

“Research has proven that when students feel safe, valued, engaged and respected, their ability to learn increases significantly,” said Justin Milner, the district’s director of Special Services and chairman of the task force. “Environments that have strong school climates foster the social, emotional and academic well-being of all students.”

District officials now are considering several measures proposed by the task force that could help prevent or reduce recurring behavioral issues. Recommendations the district will explore further include employing additional social workers and behaviorists, identifying diversity champions at each school and developing a program to provide random drug testing for students with parent permission.

Professional development programs that emphasize strengths of an inclusive school community, provide innovative classroom management techniques and enhance understanding of how trauma impacts learning also were proposed by task force members.

Frequent  use  of  disciplinary removal from school  is  associated  with  a  range  of  negative  student  outcomes,  including  lower  academic  achievement,  increased  risk  of  dropout,  and  increased  contact  with  juvenile justice system. As such, alternatives to suspension also were recommended for minor infractions. Alternatives to be explored by the district include implementing a restorative in-school suspension program across all middle and high school sites,developing an off-site placement suspension model, creating a peer-mediation program and requiring community service.

One of the task force’s key recommendations is to create a reintegration process for students who are returning to school after being suspended with the goal of correcting the behavior that resulted in the student being removed from school.

“I’m exceptionally proud of this committee,” Siano said. “The work they’ve done will help us ensure Norman Public Schools remains the district of choice for students and families.”

A School Climate and Culture Advisory committee will be created to further explore the recommendations and provide oversight for implementation.