October 5, 2016 — Maysville Elementary School has earned high praise and is seeing strong results from an national program that encourages and rewards good behavior.
In its second year of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, MES is helping students learn daily that their actions influence others.
“An initial impression tells you a lot, and success doesn’t just happen” said Rob Johnson, Georgia Department of Education school climate specialist, who met with Dr. Michele Archibald, MES principal, and Dr. Kristin Mobbs, JCSS’s PBIS coordinator, during his evaluation at the school last week.
“This school the best I’ve seen this year,” he said, citing the “consistency and details” MES demonstrated in carrying out the school’s PBIS plan.
MES is one of six PBIS schools in the Jackson County School System and one of more than 22,000 PBIS schools across the United States using what GaDOE calls “an evidence-based, data-driven framework proven to reduce disciplinary incidents, increase a school’s sense of safety, and support improved academic outcomes.”
PBIS saves “countless instructional hours otherwise lost to discipline,” according to GaDOE, combining teaching with recognition and rewards to “reduce unnecessary discipline and promote a climate of greater productivity, safety and learning.”
“It gives teachers more time to teach,” Johnson said, noting that “most schools need three to five years to really get it down.”
Administrative support is “critical,” Dr. Mobbs added. “This success starts at the top when you are teaching positive behavior and effective discipline practices.”
Dr. Archibald said PBIS “is part of everything we do” at MES, where more than 80 percent of the 320 students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches, one of the federal government’s measures of poverty.
“Regardless of where they come from, we want all our children to have the best place to learn,” she said.
Dr. Archibald, who began as principal at MES 2015, said the school had more than 300 discipline referrals in the 2014-15 school year, a number that had increased from 93 to 140, respectively, in the two years before that.
When MES implemented PBIS last year, Dr. Archibald said, staff saw a 60% drop in office referrals, to about 120, 44 of which dealt with bus issues.
“We changed our structure so that students can build one-on-one relationships with teachers,” she said. “What’s been most beneficial for us is that we now have behavior expectations that are consistent across kindergarten through fifth grade.”
PBIS gives teachers an alternative to responding only to negative behavior, Dr. Mobbs said. It provides a structure for teachers to recognize positive behavior – clothespins or other markers show students’ progress throughout the day on charts displayed in some classrooms – and the universal expectations are reinforced across all six grade levels.
“I tell my students every day that their behavior influences others,” said fourth-grade teacher Lyn Hughes. “They choose whether it will be a good influence or a bad influence.”
At MES, students start each day from a neutral point as they “S.O.A.R.” – demonstrating safety and an outstanding attitude, and showing that they are always respectful and responsible.
Signs posted throughout the building – in the cafeteria and classrooms, hallways and restrooms – break down those goals to specific actions in each area.
Using JCSS’s east side mascot, teachers and staff reinforce the standards by encouraging “Eagle Expectations” and urging students to “Be an Eagle Example.”
They recognize appropriate and outstanding behavior by awarding “Eagle Talon Tokens,” which can be used for prizes from The Eagle’s Nest Store or extra privileges, like eating with friends at a special table in the cafeteria area where tables fashioned from old cider presses were donated by one of the school’s Partners in Education supporters.
“A special recognition allows children to write their name in The Golden Book,” Dr. Archibald explained, noting that teachers who use this incentive set the specifics for their classrooms and citing an example of one teacher who buys ice cream for students who earn the honor five times.
“A daily behavior report goes home with every student,” Dr. Archibald said, giving parents feedback in addition to the statement on quarterly report cards.
Johnson praised that aspect of the MES program, noting that “most parents don’t know what to do, what to expect, what to ask for” when trying to understand school climate issues.
MES custodial staff awards a Golden Fork and a Golden Dustpan to the classes that help keep their space in the cafeteria and classroom cleanest, and attendance metrics also are being tracked and rewarded.
“We talk and talk and talk about the importance of attendance,” Dr. Archibald explained. “It is something we have struggled with,” but something that shows change with the concentrated attention, she said.
In 2014-2015, she said only about 33 percent of the student body had six or fewer absences, but that number rose to 58 percent last year.
“We added a wall chart” that tracks attendance by classroom and “repurposed” some trophies this year, Dr. Archibald said, working to continue increasing the attendance numbers.
And the school’s teachers also are recognizing one another’s achievements and working for attendance incentives, themselves, she added.
Dr. Mobbs said that the PBIS programs at East Jackson Middle School and North Jackson, South Jackson, West Jackson and Benton elementary schools are developed by each school’s faculty and staff to fit the dynamics of each student body.
Johnson, who retired after work as a principal and assistant superintendent in Barrow County and as superintendent in Laurens County, did walk-through evaluations at all six JCSS schools last week, the first of two evaluations he does at the schools annually.
The Jackson County resident said he is responsible for about 60 schools in the Northeast Georgia RESA, and he pointed out that the U.S. Congress established PBIS in 1997 to gather data to support schools. It is a program of the U.S. Department of Education.
GaDOE offers the support without cost to participating schools, Dr. Mobbs noted, praising the training and research behind PBIS, “which is amazing,” she said.
“There are only 15 school climate specialists in the state,” Johnson said. “We are adding 250-300 schools a year, and there is a waiting list for training.” He was to begin work with 82 schools in Gwinnett County this week.
He said the walk-throughs provide “a good snapshot” of what’s going on in the schools.
“It’s not a ‘gotcha’ situation,” he said. “But you need someone from outside the school” to look objectively at the effort.
“You can’t improve if you don’t assess,” he said.
JCSS serves 7,500 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with seven elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools across the county. Find more information online at jackson.k12.ga.us, at Facebook.com/JacksonCountySchoolSystem or Twitter.com/JCSchoolSystem.
— Karen Bridgeman, Communications Coordinator
Jackson County School System
Submitted to The Commerce News, The Braselton News, and The Jackson Herald