Parker ‘off to a great start’ with new discipline strategies

Discipline problems at Parker Junior High will no longer be tolerated, school officials said this week.

And multiple, positive strategies are already making a difference at Parker, Flossmoor School District 161 Superintendent Craig Doster said Monday.

“I have been to Parker nearly every day since the start of school,” Doster said. “When you go to Parker, you can already see that the climate and culture has changed.”

Over the summer, Doster said, school officials developed a discipline plan based on accountability and mutual respect. New strategies were necessary, he said, because District 161 community members have come to believe that discipline problems at Parker needed to be addressed.

“The need has been addressed,” Doster said.

Parker Principal David Kennedy – who this week made a presentation to the school board on new discipline strategies – said there have been no notable incidents since classes started Aug. 21.

“We are off to a great start this year,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said some strategies were suggested at a District 161 town hall forum on discipline in June. About 60 persons attended that session and submitted their ideas on how discipline problems can be better handled.

Parker has already adopted a bullying report form that was suggested at the forum, Kennedy said. The form, located on Parker’s online homepage, provides an opportunity to report bullying behavior. Students who are victims of bullying, or their parents, don’t have to give their names; what’s important is that bullying is reported, he said.

“We’ve already had one case this year in which bullying was reported and addressed,” he said.

A number of Parker parents have volunteered to act as monitors before and after school. They will help keep the peace at Leavitt Park and other potential trouble spots, Kennedy said.

However, he said the most important feature of the new discipline plan is an emphasis on relationship building. It is essential that teachers and other Parker staff members know how students are doing on any given day, and are able to intervene if a child is headed toward a possible discipline problem.

“We’re working on repairing broken relationships,” Kennedy said. Such a strategy, he said, raises the bar for both students and Parker staff.

“You can have eight teachers in the hall together, but if they are talking about lunch they won’t be able to keep an eye on students and how they are acting,” he said.

Under the new plan, administrators and teachers will have “caseloads” of students who have histories of discipline problems. They will meet with the students to see how the school year is progressing and whether they have any issues that need to be addressed, he said.

Student input teams are being formed, Kennedy said, with a rotating array of members – students who have success in school will be involved and so will some needing more help. Suggestion boxes will be set up around the school and team members will keep track of the proposals and meet with administrators about whether some can be implemented.

Kennedy said some administrators will literally move into the Parker hallways. Standup desks on wheels have been ordered and administrators will take turns working and monitoring the halls.

Under the new plan, disciplinary infractions, or “steps,” can lead to more serious consequences. Students were given folders so they will be able to monitor their own steps.

During the first seven days of school, Parker students received steps on 19 occasions, said Assistant Principal Bruce Nieminski, an indication that behavior problems have been minimal. Parker opened the year with about 870 students.

Kennedy said the school is planning to have a wall in which the number of steps for each grade are recorded.

School board member Lisa Harrell said she was concerned that such an addition to Parker might look like a “wall of shame.”

Kennedy said that all the new strategies are designed to be positive, and ask students to be partners in making Parker a safe place to learn.

Parker also plans to implement a restorative justice program that aims to resolve disciplinary problems through accountability and restitution. Traditional restorative justice programs are designed to repair the harm caused by crime when victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how that is best accomplished. Kennedy said Parker’s program will be developed throughout the year and may focus on community service following a disciplinary infraction. He suggested that a student facing disciplinary action might have the option of helping beautify Leavitt Park.

Kennedy said one of his goals this year is to make a positive phone call to every Parker parent.

“Parents should know when their child is doing something positive at school,” he said. “They should not only get phone calls when something bad happens.”

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