Dean of discipline
Dean of Discipline
The Tarrant high school story
Where discipline is unregulated, teachers are unable to teach and students to learn. So states Sharon Wright, Dean of discipline at Tarrant high school in St. Andrew who notes that her post was created by the Ministry of Education to address this very issue.
At Tarrant infractions by students in the school ranged from minor matters such as lateness and disruption of classes to major issues involving the use of weapons. Wright notes, "the vice principal and class teachers were overwhelmed."
Other students were also skipping classes, not doing assignments, or not attending school at all. These had become problems on a large scale.
Wright notes that some parents were also unaware that their children were not attending classes and had in fact been struck off the register after one month of absence.
"Parents came for the child's report only to discover that children had not attended school in the term at all."
Other challenges included students who took electronic equipment to school including cell phones and MP3 players and used these to disrupt class. Others took pornographic material and showed it to each other. Major issues were big fights involving the use of weapons, disrespectfulness to teachers, fighting teachers and drug use.
Added to these issues was sex between students in bathrooms, classrooms and abandoned buildings in community. There were also students who lived near to school and who would "carry home a whole group (of students) and carry on", Wright notes.
These incidents were increasing and were overwhelming. It was possible to spend a whole day or two days dealing with one matter meanwhile "children suffered and teacher did not teach."
In 2002, as the newly appointed Dean of discipline, Sharon Wright started out by liaising with other staff to ensure that all rules were maintained. She states, "We insisted on maintaining the rules. If any aspect was broken, we began with a warning and reminder. If the student persisted there was another warning. Many just gave up when they realised that we would persist.
But, if they persisted the Dean would call the parent to say this child is breaking the rules or misbehaving. Students, she said, really dislike it when their parents are called in.
A persistent rule breaker may be suspended but not sent home. Instead, he or she is given community service involving the tidying of classrooms, libraries or other areas.
"They do not like this because there classmates see and know they are being punished."
Wright notes that in many cases counselling is required as well because students who act out invariably have a problem. "I can safely say that over 95 per cent of children who give problems of school have a problem at home. This may be parents who have separated or parents who live abroad. They want their parents.
"One seventh grader came in giving trouble and when we brought her in she was writing a suicide note. In the summer she had visited her father to find a decomposing body. She had been very attached to him. She wanted to be with him. She wanted to die. A lot of them (students) are doing things and don't know when they doing it."
Other students, she noted, live in inner-city communities where they influenced by things happening around them. Still others have parents who cant be bothered.
"Others were allowed to do as please when they are small and become unmanageable as teenagers. I saw children who hit their parents or cursed them right in front of us."
Still other students see nothing wrong with certain forms of dress and hairstyles. "Boys tighten their pants because it's the in-thing. Girls wear coloured bra with white blouses. These are just things not taught at home or influenced by peer pressure."
Noting that parents also need training in how to deal with teenagers Sharon Wright noted that Tarrant also ran parenting seminars which were not as well attended as they would have liked.
In general the dean has tried to inculcate a new culture of dealing with conflict.
The office of Dean of Discipline uses peer counselling she states, "because kids will talk to their peers." The student council also functions as their lawyer, defending them before the disciplinary council.
In council, everyone involved in an incident is expected to submit a written report, reports which are read aloud before an agreement about what really happened is arrived at. There is also log book to log all instances of indiscipline.
The dean of discipline states, "We are aware that some adults mis-treat children. Where it occurs it is dealt with.
Students are told, she said, "if someone provokes you report it to an adult." At the same time, the adult to whom this is reported must respond. The adult talks to the offender and this alone often prevents a fight.
The Dean says that consistency is also important. "The baddest child knows that it is better to come to me than to make me find them. They don't like it when I call their parents. They don't like community service. They really dislike that. "
New measures to be introduced in September 2009 include a behavior change programme which is aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions. It will also include a one-year residential programme for students who cannot be helped in any other way.
At Tarrant changes will also feature a new point system where one can lose or gain points payable in money. "They will be able to use these points to purchase anything our school shop or earn points to buy or tickets for entertainment events at the school. All students referred for disciplinary problems will be graded on this point system," Sharon Wright notes.
Overall at Tarrant, the Dean claims, "we have seen marked improvement. In the past people said Tarrant was the worst school. Now they have seen the difference. Our discipline is even better than some of the traditional high schools. We have been commended.
Wright reflects, "We do have kids who come in at grade seven who are already notorious. But, by grade nine or ten they are completely different.
"You get the gratification when you see a child who is like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly - a new different person who could have been thrown out.
"Some of them we work with and when their results come back from CXC, tears come to your eyes when you recall where they are coming from."
Wright is most optimistic about the new school year. "In the past there were things you wanted to do and the resources were not there. Now, its easier with more training for staff in behavior management."
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