The New Bedford School Committee meeting on March 14 drew many city residents and considerable attention from the media with parents and teachers concerned about the safety of our city’s schools. Without a doubt, this is a valid concern.We will not tolerate noraccept unsafe schools.
Several people spoke at the meeting about Keith Middle School and other topics. Nobody shares their concerns about a safe, positive learning environment for every child entrusted in our care more than I do as superintendent of schools.
While the heart of the matter — school safety — is critically important, what was troublesome at Monday’s meeting was the overarching tone of the meeting: one of blame.
The finger of blame was pointed at students, families, teachers, administrators, casting that blame on everyone involved — and with all that blame came no solutions.
Blame is not a strategy. It gets us nowhere when it comes totackling our most pressing problems. It taps our energy from improving the situation and it pits people against one another away from the very cause that everyone agrees on: Our schools must be safe.
Behavior is choice. Every day we make choices. In the moment, we decide how we will handle a situation and how we deal with those we like and don’t like. Sometimes impulses take over, and then we need to redirect ourselves when things don’t go our way.
In every New Bedford public school, including Keith Middle School, there are consequences for behavior. Weapons, assaults, and illegal substances have no place in school and have major consequences. Disrespect toward authority figures also requires consequences, and must allow for strategies to mend the relationship that has been compromised.
There are consequences when students make the wrong choices and exhibit negative behavior. We implement loss of privileges, detention,suspension, and other penalties when students make a poor decision There are also positive consequences when students make the right choices. This is how we are striving to create a positive culture in our schools, building positive relationships between adults and students. With respectful behavior comes opportunity and incentives.
At Roosevelt Middle School, where the school’s climate has continued to improve and there is teamwork to ensure a positive learning environment, staff uses the PAWS system. PAWS means Positive Actions With Students. As students earn PAWS cards — and yes, staff can earn them too, from students and colleagues — they are encouraged to continue their positive behavior. When asked of our students there, one of the highest sought incentives was to be able to spend more time with their teacher, such as having lunch together.
At New Bedford High School, struggling math students were reassigned to a differentclassroom where the teacher reset the culture of expectations, and now students are progressing and are far more engaged in their learning.
We’ve stressed it before — education is all about building connections with kids. It’s the number one starting point, and every great educator knows it.
No one person, and no one group — not teachers alone, nor parents, students, or administrators alone — can solve every problem.
It will take a team approach to continue to move this district toward the excellence that is expected and should be demanded.
With our team at New Bedford Public Schools, this is more than possible. Working together — all of us — our kids, our families, our teachers, our administrators, and our community — we will continue to move this district towards excellence.—Pia Durkin, Ph.D., is superintendent of New Bedford Public Schools.