Parents gave high marks to the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Program at Dewey School during a meeting with Tracy Justesen, assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services for the U.S. Department of Education, and Renee Bradley, who runs the national center for PBIS at the U.S. Department of Education. Mr. Justesen and Ms. Bradley visited Dewey School on March 26 to learn how the school has successfully implemented PBIS.

“PBIS has made such a huge impression. It allows kids to take charge of their behavior,” said Jodi Fox, a Dewey parent. “Every adult in the school knows every kid and knows something great about them.”

Katie Bailey, District 65 School Board member and Dewey parent, said that implementing PBIS has been a “culture change” for the parents and teachers. “It’s a positive way of talking to students.”

Another parent said her children transferred to Dewey from another District 65 school after her family moved into the Dewey attendance area. “The difference in the school was stunning. … It’s unbelievable,” she said.

Ms. Bradley told the RoundTable that Mr. Justesen and she chose to visit Dewey School at the recommendation of Howard Atlas, technical assistance coordinator for the Illinois PBIS Network. Mr. Atlas said, “Dewey is one of our exemplary schools. Absolutely.”

PBIS – Focus Things Positively

Dewey implemented PBIS six years ago. Dewey principal Andrew Krugly said that, before starting the program, they “spent an inordinate amount of time getting ready.” Staff prepared a matrix of expected behaviors for each area of the school, such as arrival/dismissal areas, hallways, the playground and the lunchroom.

The matrix is built around four rules called the Dewey Do’s: Be Respectful; Be

Safe; Be Caring; and Be Here, Be Ready. Almost all of the expectations are stated in positive terms, said Mr. Krugly. “We try to use positive language as much as we can.”

Mr. Krugly said the time spent in setting up the program led to buy-in by all teachers and staff at the school. “We have changed teachers’ behavior, including my own,” he said. “We all think differently about how we react with children. We are positive and proactive, rather than being negative and reactive. We look for solutions to solve behavioral problems, rather than imposing suspensions or other sanctions.”

“One thing PBIS gave us is a common language to use with kids,” said Djuna Coe, a teacher at Dewey for 20 years. “It caused us to have positive language throughout the school. We’re always reinforcing the positive behavior, including by pre-teaching expectations.” Ms. Coe added, “We have more interaction with students and more positive interactions with students.”

Kate Ellison, a social worker at Dewey for five years, said, “PBIS helps us frame our interactions with kids. We focus on kids’ strengths and on good behavior, rather than on punishing bad behavior.”

“We have total buy-in for PBIS,” Ms. Ellison added. “The results were so dramatic in the first few years it really supported buy-in.”

An important part of the PBIS program is that expectations and behavioral skills are taught directly to students. Every Monday “Cool Tools” are taught to students, covering topics such as how to walk in the hallways, how to use playground equipment. This week’s Cool Tool was “It’s not what you say, but how you say it,” said Mr. Krugly. “We have developed 70 to 100 Cool Tools since the start.”

To reinforce good behavior, staff members give “Tiger Tickets” to students who are observing the Dewey Do’s. Ms. Ellison said students can use the Tiger Tickets to participate in monthly celebrations, such as a volleyball game, to attend a special story time with the principal and other events. One time, students could throw a ball to try to dunk Mr. Krugly in a dunk tank in exchange for 10 Tiger Tickets. “We try to have a good time with it,” Ms. Ellison said.

Data is used for everything, said Mr. Krugly. Dewey revamped its morning entrance procedure after determining that a lot of disciplinary problems arose during that time. Data is used in deciding what Cool Tools to teach. Children are surveyed to plan celebrations at which Tiger Tickets can be used.

Dewey has an intervention team that addresses both behavioral and academic issues. The team has readily available data about each student and can tailor an intervention to address a student’s pattern of behavior, rather than focusing on a single incident.

“Behavior has changed,” said Mr. Krugly. The average number of referrals for discipline and the number of suspensions has declined. The number of suspension days was 70 in 2002-03; it dropped to 2 days in 2006-07.

Mr. Krugly said, “The achievement gap in math between African-American students and white students has disappeared. The achievement gap in reading continues to close. We feel that as a result of hard work, good teaching, and the fact that behavior is so much better, that teachers can spend more time teaching rather than disciplining students.”

Mr. Krugly added, “What’s happening in this building is because of the staff in this building.”

During their visit, Mr. Justesen and Ms. Bradley met with the PBIS team, observed several classes and met with teachers, parents and students. They told Mr. Krugly their visit to Dewey “far exceeded their expectations. You have a very special school.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...