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School behavior is distinctly positive here

Four Tosa schools honored for efforts

June 20, 2012

The Wauwatosa School District has been recognized by state educational leaders for its efforts to create a positive environment.

PBIS Network, a collaborative project funded by the Department of Public Instruction, named four district schools among 25 across the state as "Schools of Distinction" for their initiatives in implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

They are Wauwatosa East High School as well as Madison, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools.

In addition, Lincoln and Underwood elementary schools were selected as "Schools of Merit."

The difference between "distinction and "merit" are scores related to planning, leadership, implementation, data collection and reporting and involvement benchmarks established by the Wisconsin PBIS Network.

District as leader

Emilie O'Connor, the district's PBIS coach, said the recent recognition has helped launch Wauwatosa as a role model for PBIS efforts.

"I know that a lot of eyes in the state are on our high schools because implementation at the high school level is a little more challenging," O'Connor said. "We have made the commitment to implement PBIS across the entire system."

The recognition makes the district a role model, Superintendent Phil Ertl said.

"I am aware of the attention," Ertl said. "What we are trying to achieve is consistency so that we can enforce good behaviors evenly across the district."

O'Connor said PBIS implementation has been carried out through this past school year.

The key ingredients for its success, she said, is having support from administration and participation at the school level, including an on-site coordinator and teaching staff committed to making it work in and outside the classroom. Parental involvement has also begun.

All about relationship

It helped that O'Connor was named PBIS coach after having served the district as a social worker at Underwood and Whitman.

"You have to build a lot of positive relationships and explain the reason why this is a good idea," O'Connor said. "I have never sensed resistance, but I did get a lot of questions.

"Collecting data is an evolving process," she said. "We are looking at behaviors that disrupt learning."

She noted that those disruptions are everything from verbal altercations or disrespect, both of which can be confronted immediately, to more disruptive fights and other actions that require a trip to the office.

"We are seeing a decrease in major disciplinary issues," O'Connor said. "We will know more next year after we have had a chance to fine-tune our data collection and get better at coordinating."

PBIS supports rewards for positive behaviors, often by collecting "tickets for good deeds," she said. It could include tickets for free prom tickets or a pizza party with friends or other privileges.

The reward programs are customized by school.

O'Connor said the idea of concentrating on behavioral success as well as academic achievement makes sense.

Two skills to succeed

"For a student to do two plus two equal four takes to skills," she said. "First, they need the academic knowledge to know that it is correct. The second is that they need the academic behavior to actually answer the question, including focus and organization. The two skills are braided and embedded with each other."

O'Connor also noted that behavioral modeling has become a trend that works especially for an increasingly diverse population.

"The reality is that we are educating students who are more diverse than ever," she said. "They are coming from varied background and experiences, which means they are coming to school with different skills and support."

Though school is out, O'Connor said positive behaviors can be reinforced in more than one way all summer.

"Our school-based coaches worked with families to keep good behavior in mind and to keep students connected to their peer group," she said. "Also, a lot of our students enroll in summer school."

PBIS also has opened a new career of sorts for O'Connor. She said supporting good behavior in schools after her social work career has worked "beautifully."

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