Faribault Middle School

Faribault Middle School administrators are working on a plan to reduce disciplinary issues at the school so they can focus on student learning. That includes adding a new administrator. (Daily News file photo)

A reduction in student suspensions at Faribault High School from 2016-17 to 2017-18 has set an example Faribault Middle School aims to duplicate in 2018-19.

The number of behavioral issues reported at the middle school dramatically increased from 2016-17 to 2017-18. It reported an increase in fights (48 to 53), harassment (five to 17), bullying (zero to eight), and disorderly conduct (120 to 199).

Total suspensions at the middle school increased from 171 in 2016-17 to 299 this past school year. Although the number of in-school suspensions decreased from 63 to 50, the out-of-school suspensions increased from 108 to 249. Reported incidents weren’t significantly higher in one grade over another.

According to Faribault Middle School Principal Michael Meihak, most situations at his school deal with confrontations, whether verbal insults or students pushing each other during their noon hour, which involves a recess.

“Those [trivial conflicts] we deal with more than the typical fight where two students square up and go after each other,” said Meihak.

Meihak believes it’s important to teach middle schoolers that conflict resolution should involve life skills and not physical violence. Students between ages 10 and 14 are “still in the process of learning how to handle those situations,” he said.

“We want to nip things in the bud before they get bigger than they have to,” said Meihak. “[That involves] addressing conflicts quickly, fairly, making sure that small things don’t turn into big things.”

A call for action

Discussions on improving behavior at the middle school began at the School Board meeting held April 9, when Meihak and Assistant Principal Kelly McDermott proposed ideas to reduce student suspensions and office visits. Among their suggestions was a plan to shift office duties so administrators could spend more time in the halls and classrooms rather than tackling discipline.

On Monday, May 21, Meihak and McDermott presented a modified proposal to the School Board, this time sharing middle school staff’s support of hiring an additional hallway monitor/lunch supervisor and increasing the hours of the student services secretary. These new positions, said Meihak, would be instrumental in reducing behavioral problems at the middle school.

The board, however, wanted a clearer disciplinary procedure in place before hiring additional staff.

According to Superintendent Todd Sesker, a new dean of students at FMS, Ted Aleckson, who started July 1, was hired to help reduce disciplinary issues at the school. Approval of that position, which replaces the behavior interventionist and comes at no additional cost, is expected to be considered by the School Board later this month.

“We hired [Aleckson] to do some of the exact same things that are happening at the high school and what has happened at Jefferson,” said Sesker. “We hired a behavior interventionist [at Jefferson] and saw numbers [of incidents] drop drastically.”

Positive changes at Faribault High School

Faribault High School saw decreases in reported incidents of in-school and out-of-school suspensions from the 2016-17 academic year to the 2017-18 year. Reported incidents decreased in areas such as classroom disruption (42 to 29), inappropriate behavior (119 to 98), insubordination (151 to 125), harassment (12 to nine) and fighting (23 to five). In-school suspensions dropped from 66 to 63, and out-of-school suspensions dropped from 126 to 116.

Faribault High School Principal Jamie Bente credits the addition of Dean of Students Joe Sage for helping reduce the reported behavior incidents and suspensions. Sage led the Ninth Grade Academy, a program that involves smaller class sizes and helps struggling students succeed. He also implemented a new philosophy called The Falcon Way, which Superintendent Todd Sesker said “has little tolerance for disruptive behavior.”

“We had much calmer hallways and a much calmer learning environment this year,” said Faribault High School Principal Jamie Bente. “There was a better all-around cultural feel in the building. [With Sage added as dean of students] that’s one more person to get out there and work with students at an administrative level, build relationships and spread our expectations to the students. It allowed me more time to do planning rather than just reacting. We were able to be proactive.”

Bente, Sage, and Assistant Principal Shawn Peck make up a team of three administrators at FHS, where 2017-18 enrollment was 1,229.

While incidents at the high school decreased, incidents at the high school involving the Faribault Police Department either increased slightly or remained the same from 2016-17 to 2017-18. According to a data request from the Faribault Police Department, fights at FHS increased from two to three, citations increased from seven to eight, and both academic years saw three assaults. One incident in 2017-18 involved a citation and information forwarded to the Rice County attorney’s office, which deals with felony-level cases.

The higher number of incidents reported to Faribault Police Department at the high school is still lower than the numbers the middle school reported in 2017-18. During the last academic year, police responded to 12 fights, six assaults, and 17 citations/referrals to the county attorney for charges. There were, however, no arrests.

District policy

To accomplish its goal of improving student behavior, the middle school plans to implement a philosophy similar to FHS’s Falcon Way. According to Community Relations Coordinator Matt Steichen, this methodology focuses on expectations, behaviors, respect, accountability and clearer communication.

“It was referenced at the high school throughout last year,” said Steichen. “In the near future, we plan to lay out, on paper, all the specific tenants of The Falcon Way so we can implement it across all the schools.”

Sesker said the Faribault School District as a whole is developing a more concrete behavioral plan called a positive school climate expectation policy. The plan, which includes FHS’s Falcon Way, includes all Falcon staff, parents, and the School Board. A committee is working on a specific behavioral plan for the middle school that will fall under the overall district plan.

“There’s a process [the plan] lies out, and it’s really a reflection of what is called restorative justice,” said Sesker. “There are interventions that are implemented prior to consequences, hopefully to help them understand, [and we] try to reteach the behaviors and make sure we’re treating everyone consistently.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-744-2551. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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