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School Climate Report Emphasizes Restorative Discipline

courtesy A+ Schools

Rigorous course offerings and positive reinforcement for hard work creates a more healthy, successful school environment, according to Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+ Schools.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools advocacy group released a report this week detailing its findings of what leads to a positive school climate. Scott said the group has trained volunteers to interview school staff members who remain anonymous since 2009. The interview data is compiled and a report released yearly.

The latest analysis reveals high expectations from teachers, a stable teaching staff and restorative discipline practices lead to a positive school environment where students feel safe, respected and challenged academically. The group also found student success to be linked to high expectations from teachers and administrators.

“Every adult who interacts with a student both believes and acts on the belief that their students can achieve, and that they can improve in their academic success by trying hard and putting in effort,” she said.

But most importantly, Scott said, students have to be in school.

One suspension in ninth grade doubles the chance a student will drop out, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education. Scott said an alternative is restorative discipline.

Those practices could include a daily, kind exchange between returning students and their teachers to “formal restorative circles that would welcome a student back into the school who has been adjudicated or who has been suspended for a long period of time,” she said.

The preventative approach gives students, teachers and administrators a space to talk and better empathize with each other, Scott said.

“It’s not just reactive," she said. "It’s not happening once a conflict has occurred or once a student has caused harm to their school community, but that it’s taking a pro-active approach.”

Teachers and staff in the district will be trained on the practices, but Scott said A+ will also work to engage parents.

“We firmly believe that students and parents need to be part of leading this work," she said. "That will really help to support success within restorative practices. It will make things more positive and simpler for the adult staff.”