School Board reviews discipline statistics

Male students account for nearly three-quarters of all suspensions.

Of all students disciplined, most are in high school.

The percentage of suspended black and disadvantaged students is higher than their percentage of the school population.

Those are the hard facts Jamie Mathieson, director of testing and accountability, presented to the Fluvanna County School Board at its November meeting Wednesday (Nov. 8).

“It’s been the same for a couple of years,” Mathieson said. “[For example,] blacks make up 15 percent of the student population but account for 30 to 40 percent of referrals [for suspension]. We’ve been talking about this since I came here. The question is, what are we doing about it?”

Mathieson looked at the number of out-of-school, in-school and bus suspensions to get a picture of how often students are suspended and who they are demographically. 

Every school building administrator and counselor knows who the children are and why they have discipline issues, Mathieson said. 

“They can tell you about each child. I’ve heard stories that are very hard to hear. It makes you wonder how the child can even make it to school each day. So the emphasis is on who the student is and why is the student there [in suspension]?” he said.

Camilla Washington (Columbia) said while the data didn’t surprise her, it’s important to know. “At-risk students need us to look at this data,” she said. “It behooves us to make sure we know who these children are.”

Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) said it’s important to look at the data realistically. She pointed to a Virginia Beach school district that ordered administrators to lower the number of suspensions. 

They did. 

But as it turned out, teachers just weren’t referring students for suspension. The students began to realize that and acted out, knowing the teacher wouldn’t suspend them because they had to keep their numbers low, Johnson said.

“We need to keep students and staff safe,” Johnson said. 

High school principal James Barlow said in most instances it’s the same students. “But it looks like our numbers are high,” he said. “I tell you, 97 percent of the students are just fine. It’s the 3 percent that keep me busy.”

Barlow looked at Payton Day, the president of the Student Government Association who sat at the table with the Board. 

“You know that. Do you feel comfortable in school?” he asked.

Day said, “Yes.”

“Good,” Barlow said. “You can come to school tomorrow.”

Each school principal went to the podium to describe their plans for continuous improvement. 

Brad Stang, middle school principal, said he was not happy with his data. “We are making it a priority to teach our kids to treat each other with respect,” he said, calling it targeted character development. 

Recognizing the need, teachers created their own curriculum focusing on self-awareness for both students and teachers.

Also, the entire school – administration, teachers and students – are reading the book Wonder, a novel by R. J. Palacio about a boy in special circumstances who faces his challenges. They plan on taking students to see the movie.

Carysbrook Elementary Principal Scott Lucas said they have a new room this year called the behavioral, emotional, social teaching lab, or BEST. 

In an effort to be more proactive in handling discipline issues, students can choose to go the BEST room until they feel in better control. 

Barlow said when he saw the low test scores for special education students he decided the administrators and teachers needed to refocus. He called a special staff meeting before the school year started and asked them to think about what they could do differently. 

“The theme for this year is ‘make a change,’ based on the Michael Jackson song,” Barlow said. “We have to look in the mirror and see what change we can make.”

Barlow said he can already see a difference in attitude. “I can tell you, my special education [test] scores will go up this year,” he said. 

Central Elementary and West Central Primary School Principal Amy Barnabei said her school is focused on “fostering a community of problem solvers.” They are seeing to it that all students have access to the science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) lab. 

At the beginning of the meeting the Board recognized the Fluvanna Rotary club for giving Carysbrook more than $6,000 to create its own STEAM lab. 

They also celebrated the middle school girls’ basketball team, which had an undefeated season.