Fix School Discipline Toolkit for Educators - Page 42

HIGHLIGHT: RICHMOND HIGH SCHOOL West Contra Costa Unified School District How did Catholic Charities get involved in providing training and technical assistance to schools around Restorative Justice? Millie Burns, RJ Consultant and Former Catholic Charities Deputy Chie f of Programs: In 2009, our focus on the very real and strong evidence about the impact that trauma has on the ability of students to learn then led us to highlight the Restorative Justice (RJ) work at our annual public policy conference. We then followed up with a teach-in in January of 2009, which consisted of presentations of RJ approaches and practices presented by RJOY and a powerful presentation led by youth from Youth UpRising who had completed our 3 –day restorative justice Peace Academy. Two staff members from Richmond High attended that training, and they immediately said we need to do this. We had a grant - $10,000 from Kaiser Permanente – which helped to support the work, and Buzz Sherwood, one the retired teachers still working at the school part-time, and I began doing restorative circles. Buzz talked the school into doing a $4,000 contract with RJOY, which provided two weekends of training with mixed faculty and students. The next year, we had $15,000 to support peacemaking circles for students. In 2011-12, the California Endowment gave us a grant that, for the first time, allowed us to have a significant presence at the school. We had Mr. Sherwood as the school-based lead on site for three days a week and a Catholic Charities restorative practices coach on-site for four days a week, and then we kicked the effort into high gear. It was that year that the school brought suspensions down by 53%. We always monitor all of the baseline and other data closely, and I have a program analyst who tracks the changes, so we have charts that measure objectively how we are doing and our analyst works closely with the school to verify the accuracy of the data. This is critical. 40 How we can fix school discipline How did you achieve such a significant decrease in suspensions in a short period of time? Well, one of the practices that the school realized was troubling was a policy created to lock out students if they were tardy to school. If students were tardy, then they would assign them to detention. Then, when the young person did not show up for detention, they would assign them to Saturday school. Then, if they did not show up for Saturday school, they would suspend them for “willful defiance.” We could attribute more than 400 suspensions to this one practice, and not only was it escalating tension at the school but it was one of those policies that result in disconnecting and disengaging students also known as “school push-out.” This one practice was really emblematic of the larger issue that we all have to deal with at our schools and in society and that the administration of Richmond High was willing to address and shift to more restorative and supportive practices. This is only one example of how strongly people in our society believe in punishment. They believe it works, and they believe that if it is not meted out that they are not being tough enough. The truth is that the punitive practices we have been using in our schools not only don’t work, but they seem to exacerbate the problems we have with school drop outs and failure. How did you begin implementation at Richmond High and how are you doing it at other schools in the District? When we took the trainings and practices from the restorative justice context, where circle practice is supposed to be unlimited and the recommendation is to provide five full days of training before you get started, to the school context, we realized that the traditional approaches would not work, given the logistical realities of schools. We needed to adapt and change to address the time and staffing