LACONIA — In September of 2014, said Middle School Vice Principal Jim Corkum, there were an average of four "major" referrals to his office each school day — meaning four times a day he dealt with a reasonably serious school infractions. This month his average is .3 "major" referrals a day — meaning he can typically go as long a three or four days without one.
Corkum and his team of guidance councilors attribute much of this positive change in student behavior to PBIS or Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.
"PBIS is a philosophy," said McKenzie Harrington-Bacote — the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA) coordinator who is in charge of managing a five-year federal grant focused on student behavior.
Laconia School District was awarded the $2.15-million federal grant in 2014 and was one of three New Hampshire School District to receive it. An additional $1.1-million School Climate Transformation Grant followed.
At the elementary level, all three city schools have a PRIDE — or personal responsibility, respect, involvement, discipline free, and excellence — mascot. At Woodland Heights "Mr. Wiskers" is the mascot while "Pride the Panther" fills the same role at Pleasant Street and "Paws" the Tiger inspires Elm Street. These mascots, said Woodland Heights Principal Eric Johnson help the younger students show school pride at assemblies and during sports and other events.
At the Middle and High Schools — it's Sachem Pride and the wall of both schools are plastered with PRIDE posters with set behavioral expectations.
"I want our kids in class, I don't want them here," Corkum said his arms pointing around to his spartan office.
He said part of the behavioral accomplishments have come from redefining what a major or minor infraction is. He noted that if a child forgets a pencil, he or she shouldn't be sent to the office and further, that as part of being good students, someone should offer his or her classmate a pencil to use.
Through a year-long PBIS training program, Harrington-Babcock said teachers and classroom assistants have been trained to handle life's little episodes internally and not refer every issue to the guidance or vice principal's office.
He said the school uses general classroom behavior strategies that have cut the major incidents down to more than half than in previous years.
"The results are keeping their classes more focused and having more students in the classroom at a time," Corkum said.
He also said that through the early intervention program afforded by PBIS, there is more "one-on-one" time for students and school staff — especially for those who don't play sports.
"We make sure there is one teacher or staff member who each student can trust and talk to," Corkum said.
Harrington-Bacote said one of the most important things PBIS does is to provide a structure where the students all know and understand what is expected of them.
Assistant Superintendent Kirk Beitler said positive behaviors have always been taught a part of an education but with PBIS, "they are purposefully taught."
All three agree that perfect behavior from all students is an unrealistic expectation on their part, but one of the benefits of the five-year PBIS grant is that a framework is being created for dealing with the few students who need some extra assistance for a variety of reasons.
Harrington-Bacote said all of the administrators went to a conference last year that included full-days of training, workshops and speakers. Accompanying the grant that allowed for the conference is a partnership with Plymouth State University that allows those teachers who participate in PBIS programming to earn a 20-credit graduate certificate.
She also said that the grant covers the entire school district and there is an additional School Climate Transformation Grant that was made available to only 100 schools in the nation. SAMSHA also provides for a train-the-trainer type grant where people who take the formal training are equipped to train those who remain back home.
Corkum quipped that the goal of the training program is to "push (Harrington-Bacote) out of her job".