Discipline referrals down in Searcy schools through positive referrals

SEARCY, Ark. – The front of Ahlf Junior High is overflowing with office referrals this year, but most of them are accompanied with smiles, high fives, and applause.

“Dakota has shown great leadership on the track team,” a staff member read. “Charlie Ann is asking me every day how my mom is doing after her fall” followed. “Bella is always prepared for class,” another said.

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It is a contrast to last year when the junior high school had 720 discipline referrals, but for the 2023-2024 school year, they’ve had 260 referrals for discipline and more than 1,000 for positive behavior.

“Our philosophy has kind of become five to one,” Principal Jonathan Gosdin. “Let’s reward their behavior five times more than we’re punishing their behavior.”

The first-year principal stated positive referrals are something new to the school this year, but they have been quickly embraced by the teachers, coaches, bus drivers, custodians, etc. who can give them to students.

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At Southwest Middle School (SWMS), discipline referrals went from 815 to 483 between years.

Staff credit an expanding toolbox that includes places for students to reset in the classroom or outside it, a clear behavior matrix that sets expectations for how to act in every possible setting and more ways for a teacher to intervene like reteaching behavior and calling a parent, before the office is necessary.

“Big emotions are going to happen. You don’t have a problem because you feel angry. It’s how you handle that anger,” SWMS Counselor Addie Cummings said.

“It just feels better campus-wide because everybody has the same expectations. The kids know we’ve taught things we’ve retaught things,” SWMS Principal Carrie Parsley added.

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Both schools also participate in the Arkansas’ BX3 grant which provides staff monthly coaching on behavior, and Searcy School District ties statewide for the most schools participating within a district this year.

“It feels nice to be known and to know that people are seeing you being kind and it’s not for nothing,” Susannah Vaughan, an Ahlf Jr. High 8th grade student, said.

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