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Highline Intervention

May 19, 2015

Two years ago, the Highline School District came up with a plan. Instead of suspending students for bad behavior, the district would instead try “in school discipline” and interventions. We take a look at how this program is playing out at Pacific Middle School.

This story was produced in collaboration with reporter Claudia Rowe and The Seattle Times.

Matt Burman's role at Pacific Middle School is part mediator, part coach. As the In School Suspension Academy instructor, he tries to take a neutral role with the students, coaching them through tough situations.

School systems throughout the nation are rethinking the way students are disciplined. This comes after the federal government urged all school districts to find alternatives to out-of-school suspensions. 

One system at the forefront of this effort is the Highline District, just outside of Seattle. Highline no longer sends kids home for bad behavior; instead administrators and students work out the problems in school.

One success story for Highline is Pacific Middle School in Des Moines. Compared to this time last year, the school has seen a 50% drop in behavior incidents. “This same data also appears to suggest in-school suspensions are correlated with an 11% rise in grade-point averages,” says Matt Burman, who serves as counselor, mediator and coach as part of a new program called “The Academy.” 
Kids who misbehave spend two days in Burman’s class, with five weeks of follow-up meetings. Burman was hired last year to launch the program. 
“What I try to do when they are on suspension is go back and forth between academic and study skills,” explains Burman. “The study skills [component] is behavior, so anything from taking notes to organizing your backpack to how to solve a conflict or how to ask for help from a teacher — all falls into study skills.” 
Fourteen-year-old Haley Williams recently went through the Academy after getting into a fight with another girl. “Mr. Burman had a whole bunch of scenarios and activities that we do together. So I think I came to school and I sat in the office and wrote my statement of what happened the night before. She told her side of the story and I told my side of the story.”
Burman believes it is imperative that both students walk away feeling heard and understood. He believes that in order to make this model work he has to remain neutral. “They can’t see me as an adult on the side of the other adults,” says Burman. “They have to see me as someone who is fair and will give them a chance to work out their issues.”
According to an in-depth series by Claudia Rowe of The Seattle Times, nationally, students of color are suspended three times more often than whites for the same offenses. Rowe’s analysis reveals that the “talk it through” approach has made a dent in those figures. In Denver, the discipline gap between black and white students narrowed by four percentage points after several years of using the practice. In Baltimore, educators report seeing the achievement gap closing, with students who traditionally would be suspended from school performing better overall. 
“As we know, students can’t learn if they’re not in the building accessing their teachers and their classroom,” explains Pacific Middle School principal Deborah Rumbaugh. 
Deborah Rumbaugh, principal of Pacific Middle School, and Tonya Mosley talk about how the “in school suspension” model works.
Rumbaugh believes the “talk it through” approach helps the students get to the heart of what’s causing them to act out in the first place. “I think we’ve moved away from consequences being you’re not going to come to school and instead here’s what you did, here’s where you need to be and let’s build a bridge together to that point.” 
Burman says often students feel their grades are improving after going through the program, in part because they have uninterrupted time in the Academy to get caught up on missed assignments. The students also learn study habits and set goals. “It’s kind of easier when I can set goals with Mr. Burman because I can come back and say, ah, yeah, I remember I made that goal,” explains 14-year-old Maria Lopez, who now visits Burman weekly as part of her five-week-long follow-up.
 The Highline District has a strategic goal of zero suspensions by the end of this year.  It is an ambitious challenge, but one Rumbaugh says believes is possible — the proof, she says, is in the results. “We have a lot of conversations with kids and families and teachers about you may not see the work that is happening in the Academy because it is intimate, because it’s between a small group, but the impact is noticeable. You are going to know in the long run that we’ve done something better.”
Many districts are now examining ways to rework the discipline process. The Kent School District also uses the “in school” suspension model. While the goal is to eliminate out-of-school suspensions, in cases where staff or student safety is at risk, students are sent home. Bringing drugs to school or using them on campus is also subject to out-of-school suspension. 




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Information about the Highline SD ISS discipline program that was referenced in the WSSDA Policy News publication - this has to do with moving away from out of school suspensions -

Interesting -