Restorative Practices Quickly Cut Suspensions in Middle School


There are often expectations for a new superintendent to make an immediate impact in his or her district. That was the case when I became superintendent at Standard School District in Bakersfield in November 2013, just as the new Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) was unfolding.

Being new to the district and the area, the needs assessment required by the LCAP served me well as an educational leader. It didn’t take long to identify the areas of need or to come to agreement on how to address them.

One area of need in our K-8 district with nearly 3,000 students was to reduce the number of suspensions. In 2013, the number of student suspensions at our middle school was extremely high – over three times the state suspension rate. Budget cuts over several years had reduced the middle school administrative team and, with over 900 students in 6th to 8th grades, it was clear that the team was operating in survival mode. We needed to provide more support for students and staff and find a program that offered a long-term solution to address student misbehavior as well as guide future behavior.

In addition to suspending students and sending them home for violating school rules, the middle school was using an in-house suspension program called Opportunity Class, or “Op,” as it was called by the students and staff. Op was basically a holding tank where misbehaving students were sent for a day or several days as a consequence for disrupting the school environment. Op was punitive in nature, and the students were expected to remain quiet and do their schoolwork. For the Op teacher, the focus was on managing the class and there was little time available for any type of intervention. The Op program had no real impact on changing or improving student behavior, and as a result many students were repeat offenders or “frequent flyers.”...

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