By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – Tupelo Public Schools saw a significant decrease in fights and bullying during the first semester compared to same period in 2007.
Tupelo Public Schools Assistant Superintendent George Noflin attributes much of the gain in discipline to school programs that reward positive behavior and a greater emphasis on proactive counseling.
In the first semester in 2008, 35 fights were reported around the district, compared to 91 in 2007. Reports of bullying, harassment and intimidation also dropped significantly.
“The number of fights is dramatic,” Noflin said about the reduction in fights.
Confiscation of drugs and weapons make up a very small percentage of discpline issues. They were flat or up slightly compared to the same periods last year.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Noflin said.
From elementary schools to high school, there’s been a targeted effort to focus on good behavior through a positive behavior support system.
“We want to catch them doing the right thing,” Noflin said.
Each school has a team that developed a unique program for its campus. A $40,000 grant covered training, school publicity and incentives. The incentives run the gamut from sweet treats to earning the opportunity to attend a school party to dancing with the principal.
“Every school has its own thing,” Noflin said.
At Lawndale Elementary, students get Ripple bucks and can earn the opportunity to dance in the halls if they aren’t tardy.
“Behavior in general has been better,” said Lawndale Principal Terry Harbin, whose school’s system also recognizes good behavior by whole classes.
If the cafeteria starts getting too loud, Harbin said he’ll find a group doing the right thing and start giving out Ripple bucks, and the other kids take notice quickly.
With the Ripple bucks, the students can buy treats like popsicles or a homework pass, that gives them a night off from work in one subject, Harbin said.
At the middle school, Art Dobbs said he and the three other teachers on the positive behavior support team – Lindsey Brett, Sam McRae and Misty Harmon – have to keep their ears to the ground to make sure the incentives meet the cool factor for students.
“We’ll try it out for two weeks, if they like it, we stick with it,” Dobbs said.
One of the biggest hits has been showcasing kids caught doing the right thing by putting their pictures up on a big screen TV in the cafeteria, Dobbs said.
“The kids actually notice that,” Dobbs said. “It’s really taken off.”
In a related program, Tupelo High School has seen tardies improve by using a centralized system. Students who are late have to check in at the attendence office. They get a card that shows how many tardies they’ve had, said Alice Hammond, assistant principal for attendence.
“Kids know exactly where they stand,” Hammond said.
If they have more than six tardies, they don’t qualify for exemptions on semester exams, no matter how good their grades are.
The district also has made a concerted effort to reach kids before they get in trouble through proactive counseling.
When teachers, counselors and principals notice conflict between students, they intervene before the problem escalates into a fight.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as giving the students a chance to step back and consider other options for resolving the conflict, Dobbs said.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re listening to the student,” Dobbs said.