Faribault Middle and High School began the 2019-20 school year on the right foot — with a strong decreases in school suspensions on both sites.

FHS began seeing improvements from 2016-17 to 2017-18, but that wasn’t the case for the middle school. While there was a decrease in in-school suspensions during those years, out-of-school suspensions increased from 108 to 249 and total suspensions increased from 171 to 299.

The disturbing trend was broken last year at Faribault Middle, according to data requested by the Daily News. In academic year 2018-19, the school saw a 26% decrease in out-of-school suspensions as well as a 71% decrease in in-school suspensions. Faribault Middle also calculated the reduction of classroom removals on a quarter-to-quarter basis during the 2018-19 school year. Classroom removals decreased each quarter in varying degrees, and over the course of the whole year, the school saw a 26% reduction.

Faribault Middle School Principal Michael Meihak attributes the decline in suspensions and classroom removals to his staff’s improved effort to build relationships with every student.

“The administrative team, teachers, paras, everyone has made strong efforts to change the culture of the building and make sure students are here to learn and proud to be at FMS,” said Meihak.

Falcon Time, an advisory period at the middle school, is a time when teachers and other staff members connect with students outside the structured classroom setting. This time has been instrumental in helping students form more personal relationships with the adults in the building, said Meihak.

Common planning time also presents a regular opportunity for staff to meet and discuss ways to hold students accountable and improve connections.

“It all starts with that relationship building,” said Meihak. “The more students are excited to be here or engaged while they’re here, the less behavior concerns we’re going to see.”

By changing the culture of the building, Meihak has also noticed students get along better with their peers and have become more accepting of being in school. Although conflicts aren’t completely gone, he said the negative student interactions he saw a couple of years ago have changed significantly.

Another change in the middle school that impacted the behavior of students was the introduction of the dean of students position at the building last year. After Faribault High School saw success with the implementation of a dean of students in 2017-18, the middle school followed suit.

“Having that dedicated staff member to work with students and staff is crucial and makes a world of difference,” said Meihak. “One of the main focuses of the dean is dealing with student behavior concerns. We’re lucky enough this person is part of other administrative duties, very much involved in curriculum instruction and professional development. Student behavior is one of the biggest items on their plate.”

As Meihak looks ahead to the new school year that started earlier this week, he hopes to see staff and students maintain the progress from the last school year and showcase those improvements more publicly.

“I would say the staff is really working on changing the culture,” said Meihak. “the students are responding very well, and we’re seeing a decrease in behavior concerns and hopefully building that self pride and pride within the community.”

At the high school

While Faribault Middle School saw a shift in behaviors starting last year, FHS has made progress over the course of two years. Schools suspensions — both in-school and out-of-school combined — decreased from 184 in 2017-18 to 147 from 2018-19. In two years, there’s been a 23% total decrease in FHS suspensions.

Like Meihak, FHS Principal Jamie Bente credits his school’s emphasis on relationship building as a key to improving student behavior. Staff at FHS work to build those relationships by equipping students with restorative practice skills, allowing them to acknowledge and correct their mistakes.

“We’re teaching students how to take responsibility and go back and repair the damage to their relationships,” said Bente. “These are skills they’re going to need in their life after high school.”

Last year, Bente said this restorative work was done in the office setting, as previous years, but teachers also adopted the practice of helping students resolve conflicts. The attitude is one of helping students see their mistakes as learning opportunities so they can make better decisions in the future. And while negative reactions are likely to happen every now and then if a student’s having an off day, the school doesn’t waver when it comes to certain offenses like drugs, fighting and weapons, which are never OK.

Because staff has let students know they’re available to help before a poor decision is made, Bente said the fighting at FHS is “almost non-existent now.” He said what’s helped mitigate this major issue is tackling lower level offenses, like students disrespecting teachers or walking out of class.

“I am ridiculously impressed with how well this building is growing,” said Bente. “The culture here is totally different than what it used to be four years ago.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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