Last week, a report made public by the Joint Committee on Safety and Discipline concluded that only eighteen percent of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) staff have seen a positive impact on student behavior under the Behavior Education Plan (BEP). This report came as we near the close of the first year under this newly implemented plan. Tonight, the MMSD Board of Education met to discuss changes to the BEP.
MMSD Superintendent, Jen Cheatham, kicked off the meeting by reminding the Board and public about the background surrounding the district’s BEP. The BEP was created to address the disproportionate number of minority students represented in suspensions and expulsion data under the former discipline code. However, a report on behavior indicated that under the new plan, black students now account for 62% of the district’s suspensions, up 3% from last year.
How this BEP will become a model for other districts, as Cheatham claims, remains to be seen.
The current effects of the BEP were heard resoundingly throughout tonight’s meeting.
Erin Proctor, a staff member at Cherokee Middle School, told a revealing story of broken safety glass. Prior to being broken by a student, this glass had toted the school’s behavior agreement, “Be Responsible. Be Respectful. Be Safe.” According to Proctor, this was the 4th window that has been broken this year.
Kati Walsh, an art teacher at Midvale and Randall Elementary Schools, disclosed details about three fights that she had broken up earlier today. Those three fights all took place in the same hour and were in a second grade classroom. Nobody on the behavior team at her school responded to her calls for assistance when she called about the fight, which ended in Walsh placing herself between the fighting children.
Behind each of these compelling stories, there was a recurring message. The BEP is understaffed, the severity of behaviors in the schools is increasing, and safety risks are imminent.
The Joint Committee on Safety and Discipline also found that more teachers agree than disagree that their “values and beliefs align with the approach to behavior outlined in the Behavior Education Plan.” This fact should not be overlooked, as it refutes some skeptics claims that the ineffectiveness is due to a lack of staff buying into the plan.
Board member Dean Loumos agreed, “It is not the paper that bothers me — it’s the practice.”
The superintendent and Board members suggested that the problems could lie in staffing, professional development, or fidelity of implementation, but nobody refuted the claims that the plan was not producing positive results.
An interesting twist came later in the meeting when funding for the BEP was juxtaposed with funding for the district’s technology plan. While district support staff is moving from incident to incident, trying to put out fires with students rather than offer them the interventions the BEP promises, our district is moving forward with $1.2 million spending in technology. This technology plan will provide five (all elementary or middle level) of its 53 schools with one-on-one student devices. Initially, this plan was meant to spread to other schools throughout the district. However, implementation beyond the pilot schools has been put on hold due to recent state budget cuts in education.
An important question was raised. Should the district continue to put money into a technology plan without a clear future, while schools across the district suffer due to an underfunded, understaffed behavior plan?
This is a question that went unanswered tonight, as the BEP changes were put on hold until the Board can look more closely at the data. However, they are on a quick timeline. Cheatham urged that a decision be made by June 1st to ensure time to plan for professional development around the BEP.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Safety and Discipline, I have thoroughly analyzed the symptoms that our district faces: frustrated students, threats to safety, loss of staff morale, and chaotic learning environments. Educators hurt when our students are hurting; tonight’s testimony was a tale of district-wide pain. It is time for the district to take a closer look at the causes behind its failing BEP.
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