District figures show that 9 percent of students at Evanston Township High School received a suspension during the first semester of the 2010-11 school year. While the number of suspensions may indicate an improving trend, black, special education and low-income students are still disproportionately disciplined compared to their representation in the student population.

The District has committed to a goal of reducing suspensions by 10 percent by 2012. According to a report presented last October, during the 2009-10 school year there were 1,503 suspensions, a statistic the School Board appeared to greet with extreme consternation,

The most recent report, presented Feb. 14 by Assistant Superintendent/Principal Oscar Hawthorne, documented 708 suspensions for the first semester. On an annualized basis, that number would represent a 5.8 percent reduction over last year. The figures show, however, that 65.5 percent of suspensions were issued to black students, 33.6 percent to special education students and 84.4 percent to low-income students. According to the ETHS School profile, 31.7 percent of District 202 students are black, 12.8 percent are classified as special education and 41 percent as low income, which means that black, special ed and low-income students are being disciplined at about twice the rate of their representation in the student population.

Of significant concern to Board members was the fact that more than one-third of the suspensions were for a category entitled “inappropriate behavior.” Board members universally questioned that category and said it was “inadequately defined.” Some suggested that suspensions for “inappropriate behavior” could possibly be due to “cultural differences in how adults perceive what kids say and do.” Board members asked for more details about what constituted “inappropriate behavior.”

Other data presented at the meeting indicated a strong relationship between suspensions and poor grades. “At the end of the first quarter, 77 percent of the students with one suspension had at least one D or F grade and 79 percent of students with two suspensions had at least one D or F grade,” the report stated.

Mr. Hawthorne said that there are many supports available to students facing discipline issues and academic challenges, including the new Wildkit Academy. Although this new program, which debuts on Feb. 26 (see sidebar) is available to students seeking a communal academic environment with faculty support for all achievement levels, Mr. Hawthorne said that students with detentions and those facing suspension could have an advantage by participating in Wildkit Academy programming.

“If their parent permits [them]to participate, they can learn about remediating their behavior. … The student does not miss a day of school,” said Mr. Hawthorne. Students with failing grades can also get help through Wildkit Academy.

“Students must be engaged,” Mr. Hawthorne emphasized, referring to the relationship between poor grades and problematic behavior. “If not, they will act out …It’s all about the relationship – staff-to-student and the environment we want to provide here.”

Much discussion centered on revising the Board’s goals to focus on measuring student infractions rather than on the punishments meted out.

“We ought to focus on reducing infractions,” said Board member Mark Metz. “We ought to identify appropriate support for students with two or more suspensions.”

Mr. Metz also questioned whether suspension was an effective punishment for a given infraction. Mr. Hawthorne responded, “We’ll have to dig a little deeper to determine that.”

Board members also wanted to know the source and location of the infractions that led to the suspensions.

“Who are the referral sources?” asked Board member Deborah Graham. “Are they teachers, or security personnel or others?” She and other Board members sought information about whether or not most of the infractions were happening in the classroom.

Board member Martha Burns said, “People need to know that this is not ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ and that kids are safe in the halls.”

Board member Gretchen Livingston praised the report, saying, “Drilling down has enabled us to determine where we have problems.”

Saturday Program to Offer Academic Support, Disciplinary Remediation

By Jennie BerksonThe report showing a link between failing grades and disciplinary problems seems to indicate that District 202’s efforts are not having a sufficiently positive effect, and a new academic support program, Wildkit Academy, will begin on Feb. 26.

This pilot program will be available to all students free of charge on select Saturdays through the end of the academic year.

System of Supports (SOS), Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) and behavioral interventions are already in place and are intended to help students improve academic achievement and behavior.

Wildkit Academy, according to a District press release, the pilot program is “”fully funded through Title I sources”” and will provide academic support for any student. Student athletes may use the Wildkit Academy to fulfill Academic Study Table requirements, and students with disciplinary issues can be released from detentions by attending the program.

Transportation will be provided for students who live outside local bus service areas.

“”We’re hoping that this support not only increases student learning and engagement, but that students will know and, more importantly, feel that we care about them.

Wildkit Academy will be an environment where students will feel supported by our faculty and staff and will have opportunities to collaborate and support each other,”” said Chala Holland, director of academic supports, who designed the program.

More information about the program can be found athttp://www.eths.k12.il.us/wildkitacademy/