A New Code of Conduct; Positive Changes

Background

The Syracuse City School District (SCSD) in central New York State has 38 schools serving over 21,000 students who speak more than 80 different languages. It has nearly 3,200 English language learners and approximately 1,000 refugee students who have arrived in the last several years. Over 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and nearly one out of every five students receives special education services. Syracuse is the 23rd poorest of the 575 biggest cities in the US, according to recent data released by the US Census Bureau.

In April 2013, a UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies report showed that Syracuse was suspending students at the rate of 30.8 percent compared to the national average of 11.3 percent. Disproportionality was higher than national averages. An investigation was conducted by the New York State Attorney General’s office. The SCSD superintendent and district leaders were deeply concerned about the suspension rates and took urgent and strategic steps within the district and with external partners to create a vision and plan for tackling the problem.

Positive Outcomes

Engaging Schools has been working with the SCSD for almost three years. The district is seeing positive results:

  • In the 2013-14 school year, there were 15,006 suspensions (in- and out-of-school) and 24,702 instructional days lost. By the end of the 2015-16 school year, suspensions were reduced to 10,382, and 12,258 fewer instructional days were lost.
  • From the 2014-2015 school year through the 2015-16 school year, the proportion of all discipline referrals that were restorative, as opposed to punitive, rose 12 percent.
  • SCSD documented the number of times the following restorative practices were reported during the 2015-2016 school year:

– Referral Observation Notes: 50,587
– Behavior Intervention Center: 9,734
– Restorative Conferences: 4,195
– “Reset” Passes: 3,780
– Family Conferences: 1,964

  • The four-year graduation rate has improved over the last three school years, from 51% in the 2013-2014 school year to 58% in the 2015-2016 school year.

In addition, Engaging Schools has gathered data from the individual schools with which we are working.

  • Henninger High School– About 1900 students attend this school. Over three years (2013-2014 through 2015-2016) office referrals decreased by 53 percent, in-school suspensions decreased by 58 percent, out-of-school suspensions decreased by 54 percent, and the four-year graduation rate increased from 49 to 59 percent.
  • Edward Smith K-8 School – About 750 students attend this school. Over three years (2013-2014 through 2015-2016), office referrals decreased by 38 percent, in-school suspensions decreased by 68 percent, and out-of-school suspensions decreased by 65.percent.
  • Weeks Elementary School (K-5) – This is the largest elementary school in the district with 725 students. Over three years (2013-2014 through 2015-2016), office referrals decreased by 65 percent, in-school suspensions decreased by 46 percent, and out-of-school suspensions decreased by 90 percent.

Creation of Code of Conduct, Character, and Support

Early on, we were invited to facilitate a collaborative process involving a 50-member task force made up of a wide variety of community members, district leaders and school staff. The nine-month process resulted in a Code of Conduct, Character, and Support that was fair, respectful, accountable, restorative and viable. The Syracuse school board approved the new Code in September of 2014.

The revised Code places a greater emphasis on:

  • Articulation of beliefs, guiding principles, goals for discipline and student support, rights and responsibilities, and a commitment to prepare young people to become responsible citizens in a democratic society
  • Promotion of pro-social behaviors and prevention of discipline problems
  • Restorative practices that are to be used by all staff members, at all levels, and with all students, including conferencing as the building block of all restorative interventions
  • More precise descriptions of behavior concerns for use in all referrals
  • Accountable consequences aligned with restorative interventions for each of three different levels of behavior concerns and violations
  • Differentiated responses to discipline problems for students in grades PreK-5 and students in grades 6-12
  • More limited and selective use of out-of-school suspension, in-school suspension, and removal of students from the classroom

Testimonial

Our new Code of Conduct, Character, and Support has changed the whole life of the district. It is a cutting-edge document that will drive not just compliance with the State Attorney General, but will enable us to do the right thing for our community and our kids. Community activists and organizations like the ACLU are amazed that we reached consensus on such a far-reaching document that supports a restorative approach and emphasizes interventions to help students become more successful.

– Patty Clark, Executive Director of Student Support Services, SCSD

Additional Actions

Since the new Code was approved in 2014, Engaging Schools’ partnership with SCSD has expanded and we have provided a range of training, coaching, and consultation. For example, we:

  • Facilitated institutes for school leadership teams to develop plans for implementation of the new Code and provided training on the revised Code to approximately 3,000 SCSD employees in the 2014-15 school year.
  • Advised on the selection and implementation of a new district data system intended to help collect, analyze, and use the right data in a timely fashion to inform decisions.
  • Provided coaching for the district Student Support Services department to increase its efficacy supporting school counselors, special education staff, and administrators in addressing behavior needs and discipline issues.
  • Collaborated with district leaders and facilitated a process that resulted in the creation of a memorandum of understanding with outside mental health and youth development agencies to provide more integrated and effective interventions for students with high levels of needs.
  • Helped the district and schools to design Behavior Intervention Centers, and coached school student support teams on policies, protocols, and processes to support students in need of Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.
  • Led professional learning sessions for teachers and instructional leaders in 16 schools on “Creating a Vibrant Classroom Climate and Culture” in the 2015 – 2016 school year.
  • Partnered with six schools to 1) support implementation of our Engaged Classrooms approach, including professional learning for teachers and instructional leaders in classroom management, discipline, and engaging instruction; 2) design and implement Behavior Intervention Centers to support students with chronic academic and behavioral concerns; 3) support Student Intervention Teams on designing a case management structure to strategically help students in need of Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.
  • Facilitated diagnostic processes with seven schools to assess their public spaces for safety and a sense of belonging and caring for students, families, and staff.

Testimonial

We have reorganized student support services in ways that are more responsive to the needs of a range of students and we are establishing more standardized practices across schools. Faculty are now seeing student support staff as allies who are critical to supporting healthy kids and a positive classroom culture. Our new database gives us instant information that can help us target the right kind of support and professional development to each school. We have a long way to go, but we’re on the right road.”

– Patty Clark, Executive Director of Student Support Services, SCSD

Learn more about our Schoolwide Discipline and Student Support program.