NAUGATUCK — The school system is on pace to reach its goal of improving student behavior.
Last year, the district reported 862 behavioral offenses to the state Department of Education. This year, Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke set a goal of dropping that number by about 10 percent, to 775.
As of Feb. 19, a little more than halfway through the school year, the district had reported 393 incidents to the state, according to a mid-year progress report of the district that Locke distributed to the Board of Education on Feb. 19.
The district also wants to decrease the number of students who have three or more reportable behavioral offenses — last year there were 93 students who fit that category and the district wants it to drop to 84 in 2014-15. As of Feb. 19, there were 36 students who had three or more reportable offenses this school year.
While improving student behavior has always been a focus for school officials, this is the first year that a Naugatuck superintendent has made it a stated goal. Locke said it’s important for several reasons, the greatest of which is that students, faculty and staff feel like they have a welcoming educational environment. Also, the less time teachers focus on behavioral issues, the more time they can focus on teaching.
“Having a school environment where kids feel safe and happy makes it so that their plates are cleared for learning,” Locke said.
Locke said the reporting is a fair reflection of what is happening in the schools and the numbers are not manipulated to make it seem like there are fewer disciplinary issues than there are. She said the state Department of Education has strict guidelines that define exactly what behavior constitutes a disciplinary report.
According to the Department of Education’s website, the following must be reported: violent crimes, inappropriate sexual behavior, property damage, weapons, theft, drugs, threatening, confrontation, fighting/battery and policy violations, including but not limited to obscene language and bullying.
Locke said students, teachers and parents will have an opportunity this year to describe in detail in a survey how they feel about the climate of each school. The surveys will be cross-referenced with the student behavior data to determine if there are any inconsistencies.
While there have been some publicized incidents at the high school and middle school — including a few arrests for fights, thefts and marijuana — incidents in the schools also appear to be on the decline, school officials said.
Janice Saam, principal of Naugatuck High School, said there a few reasons for that. First, she noted that there are about 500 fewer students than there were when she started at NHS 11 years ago — there are now about 1,200 students. Still, she does not believe that is the only reason for a decline in behavioral issues.
“We are working with students to turn it around,” she said. “So instead of just supplying the discipline, which of course we do, we also then ask, ‘How do we prevent this student from doing this behavior in the future?’”
The school has several behavioral intervention programs, including a “second chance” program, and has hired a second social worker in the school this year. Plus counselors are intervening early on and working with students to figure out why they are making poor choices. In other words, Saam said, the school is trying to proactively approach discipline.
The school has two deans of students, Tom Pompei and Jim Leary, who work with student discipline. Saam said they constantly communicate to make sure they know about each student and make sure they give fair and equitable punishments for each offense. The school also has a crisis team of about 12-to-15 officials who meet twice a month to talk about how to help students who have chronic behavioral issues, Saam said.
Finally, she said School Resource Officer Matt DaSilva of the Naugatuck Police Department has a good rapport with students. He speaks with them about making good choices and the consequences of not doing so, Saam said. When that fails and students get arrested, the school and police can send students before a local juvenile review board to determine a just consequence, as opposed to sending the case to the Superior Court system.
“We’re trying in multiple ways to send the message to students that we care about them and that we are not going to tolerate negative behavior,” Saam said.