by Beth Hutchinson
For the Pathfinder
October 22, 1998
With a month and a half of classes under their belts, students seem to be responding well to the revised discipline system at Seeley Lake Elementary School. In a report to the board during the October 13th meeting, Superintendent John Hebnes indicated that of the twelve pink slips issued this year nearly 85% of them were given to children in K-6. Of those, the bulk were for fighting on the playground.
Hebnes was very pleased to report that only two pink slips had to be assigned to junior high students. Those older students seem to be understanding the need to be accountable for their behavioral choices.
Hebnes also commented on improvement in terms of several students with records of chronic tardiness. He believes the school's message that students need to arrive at school earlier as well as to get to classes on time is being heard by a majority of the families.
According to the school's strengthened disciplinary policies, students begin to serve detention after three tardinesses and receive pink slips after six. Because there are still some students who are having problems being on time, an added penalty of 45 minutes of detention comes with each instance of tardiness after six.
Hebnes suggested that many of the children with continuing tardiness problems are in essence "raising themselves". While they still face challenges in getting to school on time, he believes that the tightened policy is gradually working there, too, because they are arriving an hour to an hour and a half earlier than a few years ago.
Board member Loren Rose asked whether parents of chronically tardy students should be requested to meet privately with the board. "It wouldn't bother me to take board time to meet with parents of habitual tardies," he said.
Board vice chair Charlee Parker supported him saying that the matter needs to stress consistency and accountability. Mark Williams, the third board member present, indicated that he, too, would be willing to speak with parents.
Reporting on a recent meeting with Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg (Ortenberg Foundation), superintendent Hebnes said that the couple would like to continue with a number of grant items. He indicated that they really love the way the preschool, directed by Sheila Devins, is impacting children. They are also exceptionally pleased with the two multi-age classes, 1-3 guided by Kathleen Thompson and 4-6 by Kay Mahoney.
The Ortenbergs are supporting another innovative program, "looping". A multi-age spin-off, looping involves keeping teachers with the same students for two years (or more), and at the end of a cycle restarting the teacher with younger students for a new loop. Fifth and sixth grade teachers Dave Spence and Lisa Pena have volunteered to proceed with implementing the model and are engaged in training for the transition.
Looping has significant benefits for increasing both academic and social growth. Teachers do not lose time each fall getting to know a new set of students. They simply pick up where they left off and move immediately into appropriate student-activity matches. (The world reknown Waldorf School movement takes looping to its height by having students and teachers remain together for the entire elementary experience.)
The experience is rejuvenating for teachers, also. It gives them a chance to work with different information each year and to remain intellectually stimulated more easily.
"Personality issues" and that occasionally "challenging" class need to be handled with more energy and creativity in looping, but that can end up as a positive opportunity for both teachers and students.
Other educational components of interest to the Ortenbergs include sponsoring staff attendance at national conferences, continuing to work with the heritage foundation...although in a modified format, on-going computer training for staff and developing the research resources in the school library.
Loren Rose, reflecting overall board sentiment, expressed great pleasure with the Ortenberg-SLES partnership saying, "What they are doing is great. We are getting training and happy teachers."
(Editor's note: the rest of Beth Hutchinson's school board story will appear in next week's Pathfinder.)