Payson District Outlines The Facts Regarding School Safety

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Schools are, in many respects, a refection of the larger community. As most adults in our community are well-adjusted contributing members, so too, most students are successful in our schools and behave in appropriate ways. As there are adults who have difficulty conforming to our social norms and laws, there are also some children who struggle with maintaining behaviors that are respectful, responsible and safe. I hope that in this guest column, our community will benefit from knowing the general facts regarding school safety.

There is a context of schooling inclusive of both the support mechanisms and obstacles our children come to school with each and every day. In communities where children are clearly valued, as in Payson, and where children are nurtured in loving and stable households, schools are able to fulfill children's academic aspirations and we see young people thrive.

Conversely, when children come to us from homes where instability is the norm or intolerance of differences is overt, or even where drug abuse and/or violence are prevalent, we have students entering our classrooms who are literally, the walking wounded.

The reality for teachers, counselors and administrators, is that we must assume, in all too many cases, the "functional" adult role model. We intervene as surrogate parents, providing children with appropriate norms of conduct; to actively promote the social norms, which many of us, as adults, take for granted. This occurs on a daily basis in all schools across this nation and Payson is no exception.

As we recognize that "thin blue line" of law enforcement, that keeps us all protected from the destructive elements in society, so too exits a line of educators that each and every day are fervently filling large voids in the lives of children with reference to societal norms of behavior.

Their interventions are, in a very real sense; I believe, holding this nation together. This challenge for educators is significant, and frankly, one that is becoming even greater.

Payson's Schools have recognized the challenges that we must overcome to allow each and every child to achieve academically.

Positive Intervention Behavior Supports is a state grant/initiative that PUSD became a participant in three years ago. Through this model, we are working as teams of educational professionals to instruct students in specific positive behaviors that we wish to reinforce.

Every student is provided instruction and reinforcement in what correct behavior looks like in hallways, classrooms, lunchrooms and buses. We reinforce expectations with reward events for students who are being Respectful, Responsible and Safe. Each school monitors their overall behaviors on a quarterly basis and through analysis determines the specific areas/behaviors that need to be addressed.

So, with respect to student safety and conduct, how are we really doing? Harassment, which includes harming, threatening to harm, taunting, stalking and bullying is cited nationally as the single most prevalent threat to school safety. In 2005, there were 55 incidents of harassment at RCMS, 25 in 2006 and 10 so far this year.

Combining the reports from our elementary schools: there where 110 incidents of harassment in 2006 and 34 past the midpoint of this school year. In 2006, there were 590 total suspensions for the school year at RCMS. This year, so far, there are 58.

Payson High School is this year beginning its participation in PBIS, so we lack data specifically on harassment. The school however, has been effective in reducing in-school suspensions from 993 in 2005 to 834 in 2006 and 311 to date this year. Our partnerships with the Police and Probation departments at PHS are instrumental in maintaining a safe and orderly high school environment. Gang activity, a real issue for many high schools, is virtually nonexistent at Payson High.

Our charge as a school district is to take each and every student entering our schools and shape them into young adults, having both the academic and social skills required to be successful and contributing members of our society.

The fact that we have a greater number of more challenging students is a reality. We, as a district however, have and will continue to be proactive in addressing issues of school safety and student discipline. I commend my principals for the manner in which they handle student discipline matters.

I have and will continue to meet with Chief Engler and engage in joint trainings with police officers and school administrators in specific areas related to supporting safe and drug-free, gang-free schools. We have an outstanding relationship with our fine police department. When student misconduct is of a criminal nature, an immediate call for law enforcement is made and Payson PD's response is always prompt and their follow-up investigations professional and thorough.

Incidents of misconduct, whether on playgrounds, classrooms or school buses will happen from time to time. Effective response and intervention is the key to both managing and reducing both minor and major behavior problems.

I will not comment specifically on the recent incidents that were reported on recently in the Roundup, however, I wish to note that reaching the general conclusion that somehow our schools are unsafe, based upon incidents as reported in the paper, is, I believe, unfounded.

My commitment to parents and the Payson community is that when student misconduct occurs, it will be addressed immediately, ensuring our children are protected. Good and great things are happening every day in our schools.

Trends utilizing a variety of data sources indicate that we are on the right track in academic achievement and school safety. Payson is a community that values its children and its schools. I believe our schools are indeed a strong reflection of these values.

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