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On July 12th, NJISJ convened nearly 20 experts in school discipline and education from policy, legal and educational institutions.  This convening provided an outstanding opportunity for a substantive conversation on school discipline issues from the perspective of superintendents, principals, psychologists, social workers, researchers and civil rights and policy advocates.  Lessons learned from this active discussion have informed our planning on next steps.

In this meeting, we engaged our colleagues in thoughtful discussion of a myriad of issues including, but not limited to:

– How do teachers respond to students?  How do teachers respond to normative youth issues?  There are ways that we would expect a 12 or 13 year old to respond to authority that are turned into behavioral or juvenile justice issues.

– How can we identify learning problems and understand the intersection between learning problems and student’s behaviors?  Many teachers are forced to choose between classroom management and curriculum development.  Teachers are so focused on teaching to the test that they may not even recognize a student’s difficulties.  How can we engage in targeted skill-building around these issues?

– How do we engage parents and families?  How do we empower/inspire parents to be the best advocates for their children?  How can we help students to communicate with their teachers and principals about the issues they are having?

– What kinds of incentives are out there (ex. High stakes testing or the Anti-bullying law)?  We noted that there are several externally imposed disincentives to keeping all youth in school.  How do we make better use of positive incentives to make change?

How can we translate the success of alternative programs, such as the policies of Lady Liberty Academy (a convening participant), to the broader public school system?

-Is there a place for a focus group or pilot project?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The discussion was particularly fruitful and lead to several suggestions for follow-up and next steps.  Most of the participants in the meeting openly expressed their desire to be a part of a coalition that continued to think about these issues and initiate a collective effort to address school discipline.  We have already begun the process of following up with participants from the convening to consider the possibility of a joint pilot program in a strategically identified New Jersey School district to develop alternatives to out-of-school suspension.