Bentonville classrooms set for disruptive pupils
BENTONVILLE — The School District plans to open two classrooms this fall specifically for elementary school students who struggle with severe behavioral issues.
Both classrooms will accommodate up to six students from across the district. One for kindergartners and first-graders will be at Sugar Creek Elementary School, and the other at Baker Elementary School for second- through fourth-graders. They will be staffed with a teacher and a paraprofessional educator.
“The goal is not for each student to be placed there
permanently,” said Tanya Sharp, executive director of student services. “We want to transition the students back to their home campus.”
The district will provide the transportation for the students coming to a behavior classroom from another school, Sharp said.
Bentonville has experienced a significant increase in the number of elementary students whose behavior is extremely disruptive, to the point principals must intervene. Their behavior can be violent or destructive, Sharp said.
“You’ll see principals shake their head because it’s so common within the schools,” Superintendent Debbie Jones told the School Board last month. Other districts, including Rogers, are seeing similar behavior, she said.
The district this past school year received a dozen workers’ compensation claims attributed to injuries occurring while staff members were interacting with these children, according to district officials.
Officials estimated the cost of implementing the behavior classrooms at $110,542 for the 2017-18 school year. The teachers and aides chosen for the classrooms will receive special training.
“We are trying to highly train the person in the room so that they want to stay there. We’re trying to provide all the resources to help make this classroom successful,” Jones said. “While it may be really allocating some resources to a small group of kids, the greater good is that those kids in the classroom are not having their education disturbed so frequently.”
There will be a referral process by committee for the behavior classrooms. The committee will have five or six people, including an administrator, a teacher, a behavior specialist and a special-education specialist, according to Sharp.
The district has criteria that must be met for a student to be placed in a behavior classroom. A student must have shown to have a substantial effect on the learning environment, and other interventions — such as a parent-teacher conference to discuss the student’s behavior — must have been tried, Sharp said.
The district’s data indicate most of the students who would be referred to a behavior classroom won’t be special-education students, though some might be.
The district prefers its behavior classroom teacher to have special-education certification so the teacher can meet the objectives of the individualized education plan for a special-education student; in any case, each elementary building has a special-education team to assist the teacher if necessary, Sharp said.
Board member Joe Quinn asked about the appeal process for families who might oppose putting their child in a behavior classroom. Families will be involved in the process leading up to placement, including development of a “behavior plan,” one of the intervention methods, Sharp said.
Jones doesn’t expect parents will appeal, “because in these situations, the parents see the behaviors,” she said. “They’re looking for any answer to keep their kids in school. So this is not something parents appeal. They’re usually seeking this alternate placement.”
Sherri MacLean retired this year as a kindergarten teacher at Sugar Creek Elementary School after 29 years in education. She taught kindergarten for 26 years.
MacLean said she noticed an increase in disruptive student behavior in the classroom, an increase that seemed to coincide with a stronger emphasis on academics at the kindergarten level.
“We worked more on social behavior. I had more time to spend with them on that,” MacLean said, about her early years of teaching kindergarten.
She dealt with particularly disruptive students with the support of parents, administrators and fellow teachers.
“It can be challenging to meet everyone’s needs in the classroom when one child is acting out,” MacLean said.
Moving students as young as 5 to a school that’s unfamiliar to them is less of a concern to administrators than making sure their behavior is under control so they can learn.
“When the behavior is such that it’s keeping them from learning, that’s what we have to focus on,” Sharp said.
Charles Lee, assistant superintendent for general administration with the Rogers School District, said Rogers also has seen an increase in students with severe behavioral problems.
“It is a major concern of many schools. It’s not just a Bentonville issue,” Lee said. “We are seeing a larger need for services for students having difficulty socially and emotionally.”
Rogers’ Westside Elementary School has been home to an alternative learning environment for students in kindergarten through second grade for about 12 years. Similar to Bentonville’s behavior classrooms, Rogers’ alternative program is primarily for students struggling with their emotions and social behavior, Lee said.
Robert Maranto, a Fayetteville School Board member and 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform, said he believes there’s “a lot of potential” for success with the behavior classrooms Bentonville is pursuing.
“I think these things could have a lot of promise if done carefully with good staff, really capable staff,” Maranto said.
Schools may be seeing more behavioral problems in their students today because of changes in the family structure, he said. The percentage of children living in families with two parents decreased from 88 percent to 69 percent between 1960 and 2016, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“That’s a huge change,” Maranto said. “It means we in schools have to play somewhat different roles than we have in the past. That’s hard, and it’s something we have to adjust to.”