The Medford School District thanks our amazing staff for all of their hard work, resourcefulness, compassion and resiliency in support of all of our students. Great things are happening in the district with student achievement, as we continue to expand options so that every student is engaged and supported in their education.
But this year, our district, as well as many others in the state and even nationwide, has seen a rise in disruptive behaviors, particularly among elementary students. While these behaviors affect a small percentage of classrooms, this can be traumatic for students and staff, and affects the learning process. I experienced these both as teacher and as a Title I specialist. Effective behavior management skills take time for each teacher to develop and fine tune and this skill is essential in becoming an effective teacher. The Medford School Board and district staff share a collective sense of urgency around this issue and actions have been taken to help address these behaviors in the short and long term.
Over the last four years, the district has increased permanent and temporary staffing levels significantly, including a commitment to lowering elementary class sizes and adding specific behavior supports in schools including behavior coaches, mental health counselors, student mentors, and a crisis intervention specialist. These investments have been funded predominantly out of the General Fund, with some help from federal funds and most recently Measure 98. Not including the reduction in class sizes, the increased behavior supports alone represent an increased annual investment of 27 FTEs ($3 million) since 2014. The most recent budget includes an additional four certified behavior coaches and seven classified staff.
Additionally, the district has embraced robust professional development for teachers to provide guidance in dealing with challenging behaviors. Initiatives include district-wide training on ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) in 2017, and TIP (Trauma Informed Practices) slated for August 2018. The district has continued to increase the numbers of PAX/Good behavior Game trained staff. Restorative Practices have now been implemented in nine schools, with two more schools implementing in the 2018-2019 school year. I gained a lot of knowledge from studying ACES and Restorative Practices. It helped me to better understand the needs of my students and how to implement strategies that were reflective of their individual needs. This made me a better teacher.
As stated in the article, the District has seen a 20 percent increase in special education referrals, which affects the timeline for evaluation. In response, the district has added additional staff to the assessment and evaluation teams. Additionally, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, the district will be conducting early childhood evaluations for children ages 3-5 in order to identify special needs and write an Individual Education Plan for a child. This will help develop relationships with students and families before they enter kindergarten, and hopefully provide a more effective transition into kindergarten for students requiring services.
Legislation in Oregon has affected the district’s ability to remove students with disruptive behaviors from the classroom. The district shared some common-sense revisions to the suspension guidelines with representatives from the Legislature’s Student Success Committee during their recent stop in Medford. These include providing a definition for what constitutes “serious physical harm,” and allowing the district to suspend a student when they are upending a classroom or when, after applying positive behavioral interventions, the student is still not able to self-regulate.
Unfortunately, such complex and multifaceted issues do not have simple and quick solutions. It will require the collaborative efforts of parents, all district staff and everyone else involved in a child’s education. I think college graduate programs for teachers could better prepare future teachers by providing classes that are truly reflective of the needs of their future students. I also think student teachers would greatly benefit by student teaching in Title I schools. A greater challenge can prove to be beneficial. The Medford School District will continue to research best practices and prioritize budget allocations to further support student behaviors as progress continues toward Superintendent Brian Shumate’s vision of a place for every kid. We are all in this together.
Let’s hope the 2019 Legislature will address current levels of school funding, which results in class sizes among the largest in the nation.
Jeff Kinsella of Medford is a retired teacher and a member of the Medford School Board. The opinions expressed here are his own.