Positive behavior program in Laconia schools said to be paying big dividends

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".

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48 boats on Winnipesaukee for Eastern Division bass fishing championship

LACONIA — Just minutes after sunup yesterday a flotilla of 48 bass boats, each with two anglers on board, left Paugus Bay Marinia and took to the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee to open The Bass Federation's Eastern Division Championship tournament, which serves as a qualifying round for the national championship next spring.

The Eastern Division consists of the six New England states, New York and the province of Ontario, each represented by a dozen anglers paired on six boats, who will fish the lake for three days. Each angler has a daily creel limit of five fish, either large-mouth or small-mouth bass measuring at least 12 inches in length. Each day at 3 p.m. the catch is weighed and angers are ranked by the cumulative weight of their catch during the three days. The top two finishers from each of the seven states and one province in the division will qualify for the national championships, joining competitors from six other divisions.

"I drove all night to get here," said Dan Murphy of Wharton, New Jersey, who last weekend landed the biggest fish — a 5.75 pound small-mouth bass — at the "Fishing for Freedom" tournament at Alexandria Bay on Lake Ontario.

With less than a third of anglers weighed in here on Wednesday, Murphy and Mark Anthony of Wolfeboro were among the leaders, but Matthew Allen of Hanover, Massachusetts claimed both the largest catch of five fish together weighing 16 pounds, 11 ounces and the biggest fish, a five pound, two ounce small-mouth bass.

As they checked in, anglers intent on keeping their catch alive and returning their fish to the lake had no time for small talk. They held their catch in bags dipped into tanks of fresh water while waiting for it to be checked and weighed. First the fish were pronounced alive, sparing anglers penalties, then measured, counted and returned to water before weighing. Once weighed the catch was again put into water and promptly returned to the lake.

Kevin Keenan of Paugus Bay Marina said the tournament was a significant event for the region, noting that many of the competitors have spent the entire week in the city to take advantage of the three permitted practice days in advance of the competition.

Amy Perry of Killingworth, Connecticut, whose husband was among the competitors, was keeping a close tally at the weigh-in. When Keenan remarked on her proficiency at handling the truck, trailer and boat — "I'd hire her in a minute" — she replied "I love it. It's a week of fishing, not working! And I do cheer for Connecticut."

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Belmont High School introducing grading system based on 'competency, not 'seat time'

BELMONT — Members of the freshman class at Belmont High School is the first that will see competency-based grades on their report cards this year.

The number grades compare to those seen in colleges and is based on a 4.0 scale. Rather than a "A" or a "B" parents will see a "4", which means a student has exceeded proficiency in that particular subject. A "3" represents proficiency and "complex knowledge" and is roughly equivalent to the former "B" grade.

Competency-based grades correspond with competency-based learning that focuses on mastery of a subject rather than "seat time", says Julia Freeland who writes for competencyworks.org.

"It's really reflective of what you know versus what you did or did not do," said Shaker Regional School District Superintendent Maria Dreyer.

According to Freeland, in 2005 New Hampshire eliminated the Carnegie Unit or the 100-year-old standard that each student must have 120 hours of "seat time" for each subject taught at the secondary level. This translates into one hour per day for 24 weeks.

With Shaker's change comes a change in teaching styles that will frequently assess each student for individual learning, create competency-based learning pathways and use the grading system outlined above to reflect what students have mastered.

She said parents will have access to all of the standards expected of their children and will be able to track their progress in real time as opposed to waiting until the end of a semester and seeing a "C-" in a core class. "C-" is not proficient.

Dreyer said competency-based education gets away from the one-size-fits-all system and allow a student to flourish if that's what he or she is capable of or conversely, to get extra attention and assistance early in the process so he or she can achieve proficiency.

"It's kind of like the way of the world," she said, noting she recently met an exchange student from Thailand who is learning in a competency-based system.

Dreyer said parents can look at typical technical manuals for electronics and other items and see that their children will have to be proficient in algebra and have mastered high-levels of reading comprehension just to function in their future adult lives.

"We're preparing our kids for jobs that we don't even know about," she said, using a former physics student of hers who wasn't passing her class with the level of proficiency he needed as an example.

"He got it, he just needed it taught a different way," she said.

Now, said Dreyer, her former student is a one of the people who determines where a cell tower needs to be placed — or the intersection of physics and politics.

"Fifteen years ago, we wouldn't have thought of that job"

She said society doesn't know what jobs are in our future but an education that provides proficiency in the skills students will need to access needed information and understand it when they see it is the goal of a competency-based education.

"The Internet has changed teaching forever," she said, adding that teachers used to teach facts but now the facts are available to anyone with a computer and the internet.

"We need to be teaching complex thinking," she said.

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'We're all not using': A talk with heroin addicts in the local Recovery Court program

GILFORD — While waiting for Horizons Center counselor Jacqui Abikoff earlier this week, the six current participants in Belknap County's Recovery Court program sat around a large table in a too small room and bantered.

Watching and listening to these six people — three men and three women — one conjures up a picture of the classic NBC sit-com "Friends".

But while they are friends, this is no sit-com. Heroin addicts all, the six have all been in the program for varying amounts of time but on this day, all are clean and sober. They willingly provided urine samples to prove it.

While Recovery Court participants and team members meet in Judge Jim Carroll's 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division court room every Tuesday at noon, much of the hard work is done behind these traditionally closed doors. This is the one piece of Recovery Court that cannot be skipped.

This is when they sit down and discuss how they feel, what they are thinking, and what daily obstacles they have to staying clean. Three counselors including Abikoff keep the discussions on track, because like most discussions among friends, their topics and comments tend to wander. Unlike a sit-com, their off-topic comments can cut and burn with brutal honesty.

The common thread in this group is honesty. It's actually one of the only things, short of a major crime, that can get someone expelled from Recovery Court with a one-way, non-stop ticket back to jail — handcuffs and all.

"We see it as a success if someone slips and comes immediately to get help," said one.

All admitted to lying while they were using — especially to the people they loved and to themselves. Most admitted to stealing from friends and family. All said they recognized the moment when they realized they were "junkies".

"It was easier to get high than to get healthy," said one of the women.

"When you're wrapped up and in that life style, it's your normal," said one. "When I got clean I remembered some of the things I did and I said, 'That's crazy.'"

When Abikoff asked if they felt they were still the face of addiction — all said no. "We're all not using."

They discussed the common perceptions of junkies. Many said society stigmatizes heroin addicts as dirty, foul-smelling people who stand around on street corners. They perceive them as thieves, manipulators, liars and think they not to be trusted.

One person challenged this view. He also said most of the people who are addicts that he knows are "regular hard-working people who ran into a problem."

"We're sick people," he said, nodding when Abikoff said the brain is like any other organ in the human body — over time it can heal.

One participant said he recently went to an AA meeting on the Seacoast and met a man who was celebrating 36 years of sobriety. Because most recovering addicts tend not to disclose their past because of possible negative repercussions, he said the faces of addicts are rarely seen unless it's mugshots.

"You don't see too many front page articles headlined 'Man Celebrates 36 Years Sober." he said.

He talked about one of his relatives. He said his relative drinks, takes Percocet and smokes weed but insists he's not a junkie because "I don't stick no needles in my arm."

One spoke about his time in jail. He said the word inside jail is that Recovery Court "just sets you up to fail" because it's nearly impossible to meet all the demands. He said he chose the program despite the naysayers because he knew if he went back to the world he was in he'd just start using again. When asked where he'd be right now if he hadn't entered the program, he replied he would probably be dead.

Most will attend the upcoming funeral of a friend who died recently of an overdose.

One of the biggest component, and the one most important to this group other than sobriety, is their community service. While the minimum required community for the program is 250 service hours, most of this group is well beyond that. Two of the groups members even have an ongoing rivalry about who can perform the most community service. Both are well over the minimum requirements.

"When we were using, we took something from our community," said one. "We want to give that back and have society trust us again."

Between the six of them, they have painted the fence around the Bayside Cemetery in Laconia, done all the mulching at Veterans Park and the Circuit Court House, and helped the Police Department at National Night Out.

One man works at a senior home where he helps cook. He started as a maintenance volunteer. All of them have helped some area elderly people move into homes.

Others have volunteered at the senior center, the family resource center, and the Salvation Army with one of them becoming cashier. Some are active in Stand Up Laconia.

All of them said they are busier than they ever were but in a productive way that makes them feel good. "Being busy but being in control," said one.

"We are earning the respect of our higher ups," said another, quoting Judge Carroll when he says that if you respect them (society), they'll respect you.

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