Avonworth Teachers Propose “Behavioral Expectations”

The union representing Avonworth School District teachers called together community leaders last week to urge the adoption of "behavioral expectations" for students.

Avonworth Middle School teachers brought together school board members and district administrators, along with parents, police and other community leaders, in an effort to stem a growing tide of minor disciplinary problems before they become a flood.

At a meeting on May 5, teachers presented a list of behavioral problems addressed in the current school year. In the middle school during the first three quarters of this school year, there have been 21 infractions that would qualify for the most serious penalty, out-of- school suspension. Those offenses include one for possession/use of drugs, one for threats (either bomb or terroristic), one for intimidation, six for harassment (which includes bullying), eight for fighting, and four for vandalism. The 21 infractions average out to approximately one every six days at the school.

The teachers also identified a laundry list of lesser infractions, including 120 minor behavior disruptions, 16 incidents of cheating, 40 acts of insubordination, 10 failures to serve detention, and six acts each of harassment, defiant/profane speech, and throwing food or objects.

Ohio Township Police Chief Beaver Micklos, who attended the meeting, confirmed in a later interview that his officers have not been called to any of the Avonworth schools to investigate serious criminal behavior or arrest students.

"Avonworth is one of the safest schools around," Micklos said.

What the middle school teachers are hoping to spearhead, however, is a change in the school district’s -- and the community’s -- entire perspective regarding discipline and behavior.

"What we’re hoping here is to get together with people in the community to come up with something that says, ‘This is what a model citizen is like, this is the path we can use to direct you there,’" said Richard Carrier, president of the Avonworth Education Association, the union that represents teachers.

Carrier advocated the formation of a "behavioral expectations committee" that would include representatives of the entire Avonworth community in an attempt to develop a "positive behavior plan" for students.

Carrier noted that teachers do not write curriculums that say what a student needs to do to receive an "F" in the class, but discipline codes are written that show what students have to do to get into trouble, Carrier noted.

Besides involvement from teachers, students, administration and school board, the proposed committee would include business and community leaders and parents, according to Mike Lincoln, one of the presenters and the middle school computer teacher. "Behaviors don’t just occur within the school district," Lincoln said. "Behaviors exist and they travel with students" into the community.

The objectives of this initiative, outlined at the May 5 meeting by sixth grade math teacher Tim Royall, are to "set a district-wide student behavior code, a system to assess, monitor and improve upon the positive behavior plan, and to create a safe and supportive learning environment."

A number of handouts were available at the meeting to give examples of what might be included in a "positive behavior plan." One from "Character Counts!" a youth-ethics initiative based in Los Angeles, lists six "core ethical values" of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Six principles for good character from www.goodcharacter.com were provided as another example: "Your character is defined by what you do, not what you say or believe." "Every choice you make helps define the kind of person you are choosing to be."

"Good character requires doing the right thing, even when it is costly or risky." "You don’t have to take the worst behavior of others as a standard for yourself." "What you do matters, and one person can make a big difference." The final principle is, "The payoff for a good character is that it makes you a better person and it makes the world a better place."

The committee would meet to decide what will be included in the new positive behavior plan.

"What values do you want to see us instill in your children?" Royall asked.

Eighth grade science teacher Kelly Compeau stated that it was necessary to get the plan started before summer break so that it could be implemented at the beginning of the next school year. The first meeting of the "behavioral expectations committee" has not yet been set, Compeau said.

School board member Peter Domencic, who is chairman of the board’s Policy Committee, attended the meeting and stated he supported the presentation. "I admire your initiative," said Domencic, who stated that the problems at Avonworth are not as severe as those of other districts.

The middle school received permission from the school board on May 3 to reinstate in-school suspension for the remainder of the year as an immediate measure to correct current problems. The only punishment that had been available before this was Saturday detention, and from there to out-of-school suspension. The middle school previously had an in-school suspension program that was stopped when funding was cut.

Compeau met with the board at its work session on May 3 to discuss restoring the in-school suspension room until school ends this June as a "stop-gap measure." Compeau estimated the costs for a substitute teacher to be $1,700 for the remainder of the year.

According to Compeau, in-school suspension is favorable to out-of-school suspension because the student does not have a day off, but has to attend school, which allows the student to complete assignments and do course work.

In-school suspension is listed as a punishment in the district’s disciplinary code for "level two" infractions, which include blatant disrespect, insubordination, tobacco possession/use, and cutting class.

The board unanimously approved a motion to allow in-school suspension for the remainder of the year, and to pay up to $2,000 for a substitute teacher.

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