Discipline, safety dominate APS meeting
The student behavior code for Akron Public Schools (APS) students mandates an out-of-school suspension for infractions ranging from smoking to theft to verbal assault on a staff member.
The district’s number of suspended students, especially black students, ranks high among Ohio public school districts, but the number of suspensions has actually gone down 65 percent since 2009, said Dan Rambler, APS director of student support services and security.
Rambler presented statistics at the Jan. 14 APS Board of Education meeting showing that 89 percent of APS students have never been suspended.
Another 8 percent have been suspended for up to five days, 2 percent for six to 10 days and 1 percent more than 10 days this year, he said. Whereas in 2009 there were more than 17,000 out-of-school suspensions, so far this year there have been only 4,017, leading him to project around 8,000 for the year, a large decrease.
The student services department works to use discipline proactively, Rambler said, teaching the staff and students in the schools about the district’s behavior requirements to “be safe, be respectful, be responsible.”
Building good relationships is the best way to encourage good behavior, he said. Each of the middle and high schools has a police officer assigned to the school, and a team of visiting officers rotates weekly through the elementary schools, checking the security and building relationships with staff and students.
Rambler commended the Akron Police Department (APD), saying, “The APD takes our schools very seriously, and they respond quickly” when the schools need them.
When possible, the district tries to divert the students with behavior problems to agencies with which APS partners — such as Child Guidance & Family Solutions, Greenleaf Family Center, Summit County Juvenile Court and the JDC Family Resource Center, Minority Behavioral Health and Pastoral Counseling Service of Summit County — for help, so they do not just sit out of school.
When the Cincinnati Public Schools were pointed out as having lower suspension rates than APS, Rambler said the APS behavior code is based on Cincinnati’s, and the district is increasing its behavioral supports in the schools, following Cincinnati’s lead.
Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams said APS is working to implement similar programs, but “we took a hit on budget cuts, which hurt targeted intervention. Cincinnati is farther along than we are.”
Rambler added, “We’re on the same path” as Cincinnati, working to lower the out-of-school suspensions.
The other area of concern in the schools is safety, in particular from outside threats, following the school attack in Connecticut.
The district is training the staff and students in defensive behavior in case of a shooting incident using the A.L.i.C.E. program, Rambler said. A.L.i.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate, the steps to take in a shooting situation.
Akron police officers trained the middle and high school staff and students last year, Rambler said, and the district is going to train those in the elementary schools this year.
School board members Lisa Mansfield and Patrick Bravo expressed concern about the graphic nature of the A.L.i.C.E. training and the effect that might have on little children. Rambler said the presentation of the information will be done differently for young children, and they will train the elementary staff before the pupils.
In other business, the board approved the hiring of Mark Williamson as communications coordinator, effective Jan. 30 at an annual salary of $80,185, according to the agenda. According to Human Resources Director Kathy McVey, Williamson worked at WAKC-TV 23 for 17 years before becoming communications director for the city of Akron and the mayor’s office. Williamson is a Firestone High School graduate.
Williamson will be in charge of internal and external communications for the APS, including website updates, publications and media relations, according to district officials.
Most recently, Williamson worked in business development for Web Concepts of America in Bath and as an independent business and communications consultant, according to district officials.
Also during the meeting, Bryson Love, who is an assistant custodian at Litchfield Middle School, attended the meeting to present to the board an American flag he brought from Afghanistan. Love, a sergeant in the Ohio National Guard, was deployed in Afghanistan as part of the BRAVO Battery I-I-34th Field Artillery Regiment from September 2011 to September 2012.
Love presented the flag from the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron that flew in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom as a gift to the APS District.
Joseph White, a sixth-grader from Schumacher Community Learning Center, opened the meeting by leading the Pledge of Allegiance. Joseph was chosen for the honor because he is a “wonderful student” and “model citizen,” said board President Jason Haas.
Haas and Mansfield were re-elected board president and vice president, respectively.
The board’s next meeting is set for Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.
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