If Spartanburg schools are any indication, the Rock Hill school district should see higher graduation rates in a few years and a shift in how educators approach students’ behavior.
In 2010, Spartanburg School District Two made the decision to focus on setting clear expectations for students and rewarding them for positive behavior rather than emphasizing punishment, said Fran Metta, director of special services. The district began using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, in the schools in 2013.
PBIS is being implemented in every Rock Hill school.
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, said Nancy Turner, director of exceptional education for the Rock Hill school district. The language used and expectations set at each school are tailored to the needs of students and staff.
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To determine how to implement PBIS, schools don’t just look at how many in-school or out-of school suspensions they have, but also at which types of behaviors are most occurring and where those incidents are happening, such as the hallway, cafeteria or bus, Turner said.
“They are digging down deep to see what type of infraction (it was), where did it happen, what time of day did it happen and what can we as a school do about it,” Turner said.
Rock Hill, like most school districts, has historically approached student behavior with punishment, Turner said. PBIS instead emphasizes understanding what kind of approach to take in a situation and the use of positive, consistent language.
“When there has to be some (punitive consequences), there has to be some,” Turner said. “But it should be very few. Now it’s understood that we look at interventions and strategies, and a positive approach not only for the students but for the staff. There are consistent procedures everyone should follow and the language should be in a very positive manner.”
Turner also led PBIS implementation in Spartanburg schools.
As a result of the switch, the Spartanburg school district is now seeing a higher graduation rate and a focus on a students’ mental well-being both in and outside of school, Metta said.
“We have definitely seen a positive change in the culture,” she said. “Teachers now have tool bags of interventions related to behavior, but they also have more of an understanding about why kids behave the way they do.”
Teachers now have tool bags of interventions related to behavior, but they also have more of an understanding about why kids behave the way they do.
Fran Metta, Spartanburg School District Two
Since implementing PBIS, Spartanburg has added programs focused on mental health, suicide prevention, graduation intervention and social skills instruction, Metta said.
Spartanburg received a grant in 2014 to focus on improving graduation and droput rates and refine their PBIS system, Metta said. The district hired four graduation interventionists and identified at-risk students who need specific support.
Spartanburg also adopted the Compassionate Schools Initiative last year, which recognizes childhood adversity and trauma can be linked to problems in school.
Spartanburg partnered with Jennifer Parker, a professor of psychology and director of the Child Advocacy Studies Program at University of South Carolina Upstate, to train teachers to recognize behavioral problems and better understand why a student is struggling and how to help them, Metta said.
“We wanted to build awareness for the struggles our students face every day,” Metta said. “They are here with us during the school day but when they leave we don’t always get to know what they go home to.”
Spartanburg school members also have attended United Way poverty simulations as part of the compassionate initiative, which focuses on the whole child rather than just their academics, Metta said.
Through PBIS and the compassionate approach, teachers may not send a student to the office for disruptive behavior in the classroom, Metta said. Instead, the teacher will work to understand why the student is misbehaving and what support they may need to be successful.
“That type of culture change is evident here,” Metta said. “It has made a huge difference. All of that came from starting to have conversations about behavior and how we can change behavior for our students. PBIS laid the groundwork for that.”
In the 2008-09 school year, before PBIS and other support programs were implemented, Spartanburg District Two’s graduation rate was 77.3 percent, with a 3.8 percent dropout rate, according to the district’s annual report card from the S.C. Department of Education. The graduation rate increased to 82.9 percent when PBIS initiatives were adopted districtwide in 2013-14 and to 89.0 percent for the 2016-17 school year with the start of Compassionate Schools and continuation of graduation interventions and other supports.
“While it is impossible to say that PBIS is solely responsible for the improvements we’ve seen, we believe it is a part of the improvements our students are experiencing,” Metta told The Herald, “having the multi-tiered system in place allows us to address a variety of needs, from the academic to the social and emotional needs of our students.”
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082