Ben­tonville class­rooms set for dis­rup­tive pupils

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAVE PEROZEK

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.”

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