Rock Hill schools taking a positive approach to handling student discipline

Every morning, Coach Chonce' Dunham greets students at Saluda Trail Middle School with words of encouragement.

“(The greeting) encourages them to come in and have a great day, and do what they need to do to be successful, and keep on the right track,” Dunham said.

Rock Hill schools no longer put their main focus on punishing bad behavior. Instead, they’re teaching students what is expected and rewarding them for following through. It’s part of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, said Nancy Turner, director of exceptional education for the district.

“When a student doesn’t know math, we teach them math. When a student doesn’t know reading, we teach them how to read. However, if a student doesn’t know how to behave, we traditionally punish,” said Clayton Moton, Saluda Trail sixth-grade assistant principal.

The PBIS approach is based on evidence, and designed to help students behave and perform better in school, according to Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, established by the U.S. Department of Education.

“We will see more time spent on task, higher academic achievement and fewer students being disciplined and sent out of school for (suspension) than ever before,” said Turner, who has led PBIS implementation in other districts.

“... There will be drastic changes once everyone is on board. It is a paradigm shift for our adults.”

Turner said it takes about five years for PBIS to be fully implemented.

“In three to five years, our graduation rate shall improve,” she said. “I have seen in each district, that by the third year, there is a radical change, and by the fifth year, it’s a different district as far as morale, academic achievement and graduation rate.”

PBIS was implemented in 13 Rock Hill schools during the 2016-17 school year, Turner said. The approach is now being implemented district-wide. During the summer, Rock Hill teachers, administrators and staff attended training led by Bob Stevens with the Association for Positive Behavior Support, a professional organization committed to applying positive supports in schools.

“What we know is, we can’t change behavior just through punishment,” Stevens said. “To change poor behavior, you not only have to correct it when it’s incorrect, but when students do those things they are supposed to do, you have to acknowledge it.”

PBIS takes buy-in from everyone at the school, including parents, teachers, administration, bus drivers and custodial staff, Turner said. In each school, PBIS is tailored to the needs of students and staff.

At Saluda Trail, students are taught to live the WildCat CHAMP way, said April Ulmer, eighth-grade assistant principal. The acronym stands for character, honor, achievement, motivation and perseverance.

“Being a CHAMP to me means I know what to do and there are certain school rules we have to follow,” said sixth-grader Chloe Newport.

When students apply CHAMP principles, they are recognized on a school bulletin board.

“I feel like it rewards the students who (behave well), and I really like it for that,” Newport said.

When they are not living the CHAMP way, teachers can guide students on what is expected, Ulmer said. PBIS was adopted at the school last year.

“When a student exhibits behavior that might not be acceptable, instead of shoving them in (in-school or out-of-school suspension), we need to discuss positive ways they could have dealt with the situation, so going forward they don’t repeat those behaviors,” Ulmer said. “(Teachers) having that conversation with that student enables them to have a relationship they didn’t have.”

PBIS brings consistency to how schools handle behavior in a positive way, with every student, staff member and administrator following specific expectations and using the same language, Turner said.

“We went from all of the ‘do nots’ to giving examples of what to do,” Moton said. “It doesn’t mean accountability goes out the window. It reinforces their accountability.”

Each school determines areas of improvement and how best to implement PBIS, based on their own discipline data, which is updated each month, Turner said.

For York Road Elementary School, that means improving behavior on buses, and in special classes such as music and arts, said Janice Hyatt, assistant principal.

York Road uses its mascot, the bulldogs, to reinforce the PBIS message.

PAWS stands for polite, accountable, works hard and safe, Hyatt said. There are paw stickers throughout the school representing classes and buses where students have followed the rules. Students who behave well also receive plastic paws to hang on their student ID and save up for prizes.

PAWS is York Road’s way of providing a consistent message to students and staff, Hyatt said. She said it’s important to reiterate the message to students, especially young children.

“A lot of times, we have this misconception that you tell them one time and they’ve got it,” Hyatt said. “In today’s time, a positive impact is the most important. It’s made a big difference.”

PBIS works at every level, from elementary through high school, Turner said.

Kia Frazier, 11th-grade assistant principal at Rock Hill High School, said the numbers of tardies, ID violations and other problems have gone down since the school started PBIS five years ago. Rock Hill High began the program under a grant before the district made it a focus, she said.

“We’re able to maximize academic engagement and achievement by recognizing positive behaviors more frequently,” Frazier said.

Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082