From the Superintendent: Striving for a Truly Restorative Culture

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There is no denying the past few months have been challenging for SPPS. We have seen an increase of unrest and disturbing behavior at some of our schools. This increase is not unique in SPPS, it is happening throughout the county and state. However, this is our district and these are our students, and we continue to search for the right combination of proactive and responsive measures.

We need a holistic approach that improves learning environments while supporting the social and emotional development of students – I believe that every one of our 7,800 staff would agree.  Alternative learning environments, classroom supports, appropriate student interventions, professional development, community partnerships and family involvement are all parts of a greater whole. We must recommit to these efforts already happening across the district.

This does not mean, though, that we will continue to do the same thing and expect different results. The best-laid plans require adjustments and modifications in order to achieve the desired outcomes.

One adjustment we are investigating is how to better support our buildings through the enrollment and student transfer process. Our teachers are deeply committed to serving everyone who walks through their classroom doors. We can better support our amazing staff by recognizing the immensity of the work required in preparing for a new student.

We also continue to refine our alternative learning programs designed to keep students on track for graduation while they are temporarily removed from their home school.

One such program is our Gordon Parks middle school option that began this year. It is available for students in grades 7 and 8 who are referred for administrative transfer twice in one year. It is an opportunity for students to receive focused support in hope of being able to transition back into their middle school.

Even when we are proactive and promote restorative resolutions, sometimes students behave outside of our expectations. As I have said numerous times: I will not tolerate any behavior that puts our schools, students or staff at risk. Our discipline policies specify severe consequences for students who jeopardize the safety of others and we do not shy away from enforcing these policies.

Suspensions and expulsions cannot and will not solve the root causes contributing to student violence. While we remain committed to reducing the amount of time students are removed from instruction, we have never wavered from suspending or referring students for expulsion when warranted. The data simply does not support claims to the contrary.

* This represents the number of students who chose to exercise their right to withdraw from SPPS to avoid an expulsion hearing. They are not permitted to re-enroll in the district for one calendar year, the same length as a formal expulsion. There have been 208 such withdrawals since 2011.

I remain steadfast in my belief that suspensions and expulsions, while at times necessary, do little to foster a restorative culture in our schools. To be truly restorative we must continue listening and elevating the voices of those most impacted -- our students and staff. I look forward to continuing our work in designing and implementing a system wide restorative practice approach with our teachers and their union.

 

Every building, every classroom I visit is filled with love, compassion and a desire to see students excel. For that and everything else you do to keep students at the center, I thank you.

 

Your Grateful Superintendent,

 

Silva Signature

 

Valeria Silva