Newstrack: Cedar Rapids elementaries aiming to reduce disciplinary actions

Data show average referrals per month down slightly districtwide

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BACKGROUND

CEDAR RAPIDS — At the beginning of this school year, the Cedar Rapids school district set out to decrease the number of disciplinary referrals during the academic year, especially among elementary students.

Referrals are given to students as the result of poor behavior. In the Cedar Rapids district, those behaviors include cursing, fighting, defiance, throwing objects, bullying, making threats and leaving class without permission.

At Harrison Elementary in northwest Cedar Rapids, it’s Trista Manternach’s first year as principal. On the eve of the first day of school, she told The Gazette that improving discipline practices at the school was her top priority.

“We’re focusing a lot on behavior,” Manternach said in August. “Harrison was the second-highest as far as referrals written across the district, so we’re focusing on helping our kids stay in the classroom.”

Across the district, employees gave 12,911 referrals to kindergartners through fifth-graders during the 2015-2016 school year, according to district data.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

According to district data, an average of 1,423 referrals a month have been given this year — last year’s average was 1,433. A total of 7,166 has been written.

At Harrison Elementary, Manternach said a renewed focus on disciplinary practices is impacting the culture of the school.

“Everybody’s kind of rooting for the kids right now, and that I think has been a little bit of a change in mind-set across the building,” she said.

Referral numbers at her school aren’t falling as fast as she’d like, she said. Adults have handed out about four referrals a day, on average, since August. But last school year, the average was more than seven.

As of Tuesday, 413 referrals have been written there this school year.

“When I pull the data and I see over 700 referrals last year, and now this year we’re just over 400, that still seems like it’s a lot,” Manternach said. “But it’s just such a positive feeling around the building right now. Even though it seems like a lot of referrals, I’ll take it.”

In other schools across the district, similar changes have been rolled out this academic year, said Val Dolezal, the district’s PK-8 executive director.

The district has tried to strengthen “core social, emotional, behavioral instruction,” she said, which includes helping students understand expectations for how to ask to go the restroom, line up for recess or get a teacher’s attention.

“We can’t have our kids engaged in instruction if their social, emotional and behavior skills aren’t as strong and are interfering with them accessing instruction,” Dolezal said.

Educators also have started using a behavior model, called “two-by-10,” that pairs struggling students with a teacher for two minutes a day for 10 days at a time. Teachers use the time to get to know students.

“We know that behavior follows them into the classroom,” Manternach said. “So we’ve been really focused on creating that positive relationship between our most struggling students and the adults that they interact with on a day-to-day basis.”

Harrison students chosen for that relationship-building exercise, Manternach said, have shown a decrease in behavioral issues.

“They know there’s somebody here who cares about them,” she said. “It’s not just about we want you to learn about all this stuff. We want you to learn, but I’m also here to learn about you.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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