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‘Laramie Project’ co-creator tells H-F students how town’s voices shaped play

Parker Junior High School Principal David Kennedy made a presentation to the Flossmoor District 161 school board this week showing that the number of disciplinary referrals declined in the first year of a new program.

During the current school year, there were 43 referrals for fighting, Kennedy said. There were 77 referrals for disrespect, 57 for abusive language and one for the use of tobacco, drugs, weapons and combustibles. The numbers show the total referrals through Monday. 

In the 2014-2015 school year, there were 51 referrals for fighting, 103 for disrespect, 64 for abusive language and seven for the use of tobacco, drugs, weapons and combustibles.

Referrals for all infractions declined from 1,267 in 2014-2015 to a projected total of 1,166 this year.  

Kennedy made the presentation at Monday’s school board committee meeting.

Although the data shows a decline in referrals, Kennedy said he is not content with the progress.

“It’s still not where we want it to be,” Kennedy said. “The staff works very hard with being in the hallways and trying to develop more of a relationship with the kids to help and get Parker where it needs to be.”

But School Board Member Merle Huckabee wasn’t convinced these numbers accurately reflect change. She stressed that just because an incident wasn’t reported doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

“I look at the statistics but I’m not even sure that you (Kennedy) are aware of all the fights that take place in the school,” Huckabee said. “I’m a little hesitant to believe that we still don’t have an issue with fighting.”

Kennedy introduced Parker’s STEP disciplinary program shortly after taking over as principal at the school last summer.

Under the new plan, disciplinary infractions, or “steps,” can lead to more serious consequences. Students were given folders so they will be able to monitor their own steps. The new plan also placed emphasis on relationship building, gave student “caseloads” to staff members and instituted anti-bullying strategies.

The STEP program also aims to resolve disciplinary problems through accountability and restitution.

School officials developed the new program after District 161 community members indicated that discipline problems at Parker needed to be addressed. About 60 persons attended a town hall forum on discipline last June and submitted their ideas on how discipline problems can be better handled.

Officials plan to implement additional proactive measures in the future to help fix disciplinary issues at Parker.

One of the future plans, now in its preliminary stage, is the “Solution Squad” that two staff members helped create. This new idea will help get fathers of Parker students involved and more visible in the school.

Another part of the STEP plan that school officials hope to implement is the “Prepare, Educate, Address, Reward” plan. It will go into effect next year.

Parker Assistant Principal Bruce Nieminski said he knows altercations are going to happen in a public school of 900 students, but he wants his staff to be prepared when they occur. The “prepare” step allows staff members to increase supervision and change procedures so there’s a lesser chance of altercations taking place.

The next step, “educate,” is key to the success of the program, Nieminski said. He explained the community, staff, parents, and students need to be educated about tools that are available to address their conflicts effectively.

The third step, “address,” is designed to expand consequences for fighting that don’t always include students being suspended or expelled from school.

The final step, “reward,” is often overlooked, Nieminski said. Rewarding students for doing well in school isn’t done often because it’s more common to focus on the students who break the rules, he said.

A graphic design outlining the plan will be on display around Parker during the coming school year, Nieminski said.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction. We’ve got a ways to go and we’ve got things we need to deal with,” he said. “We’re working as a team. It’s not perfect but it’ll get where it needs to be.”

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