Oklahoma City Public Schools leaders are trying to sort out the deeper causes of a 37% increase in suspensions compared to the first semester last year.
OKCPS has seen a steady increase in suspensions comparing first semester numbers each year since 2017.
The district was forthcoming with information when Free Press asked for it Thursday.
Superintendent Sean McDaniel assured media representatives Tuesday in a news conference that the district is exploring the causes and possible solutions.
The evening before McDaniel gave an update to the Pathway to Greatness plan in its first year and what some consider to be the source of ongoing disruptions in the district.
A total of 4,184 individually recorded suspensions attributed to 2,730 students were issued in Oklahoma City Public Schools in the first semester of the current 2019-2020 school year.
That number represents a 37% increase over last year’s number at the end of the first semester which was 3,048.
Those 2,730 students represent a little less than 8% of the 35,539 students in the district according to Beth Harrison with OKCPS.
At the end of the first semester in 2017-2018, the district logged 2,722 suspensions.
In 2016-2017, 2,181 suspensions were recorded at the end of the first semester.
“Right now, we’re gathering the data on that,” said McDaniel in a news conference Tuesday when asked about the district’s current struggle with student discipline.
“We’re having a district-wide conversation about discipline, about student behaviors, how as adults we respond to that what policy changes need to occur, how we can support our teachers better and our kids and families better.”
McDaniel acknowledged that in some schools “it is bad.”
“We acknowledge it and we’ve got to do something about it,” he said. “
“We have already tried to support those schools in different ways additional staffing, bringing community partners in addressing the culture of the school,” McDaniel said. “We need to continue working on those things.”
He emphasized that “we’re not skating away from it” and assured the media that “we’re leaning into it.”
“We’ve got to address the behaviors and we’ve got to provide support and that’s what we’re doing right now,” said McDaniel.
Big district, big coverage
McDaniel said that since OKCPS is the biggest district in the state it gets big coverage when incidents happen.
“Oklahoma City Public Schools gets the coverage because we’re ginormous.”
“It may or may not be any worse than what’s occurring in the district next door,” McDaniel said. “But, because we get the exposure time after time after time after time, boy does it look bad.”
Videos from different events have charged the conversation in the community about disruptions in the schools, especially in the reconfigured middle schools.
Within 15 days of the start of school McDaniel replaced the principal at John Marshall Middle School in efforts to address disruptions in that building some of which had been captured by students’ phones.
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Deputy Superintendent Jason Brown cited childhood trauma and teacher inexperience due to low state teacher pay as significant factors in student discipline struggles in OKCPS and across the state.
Brown pointed to research that shows an increase in “adverse childhood experiences” as one important factor for public schools.
And teacher experience has become a bigger concern in recent years as low pay for the profession in the state and nationwide has resulted in more experienced teachers leaving the profession earlier than in decades past.
“We’ve had a teacher flight,” said Brown. “You combine that with increased trauma among our children, and you take Oklahoma City, which is really the nexus point of those items, and I think you’re going to see more issues in the classroom.”
He said that first, the district will have to concentrate more on addressing the needs of the students.
But, at the same time, the district has to try and expand the experience levels of its teachers and “increase the teacher pool.”
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