23 Pittsburgh schools to use 'restorative' practices to improve communication, responsibility
April 22, 2015 11:21 PM
David J. Hickton, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, speaks Wednesday at Pittsburgh Minadeo PreK-5. At right is Linda Lane, Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent.
By Eleanor Chute and Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Public Schools officials said Wednesday that 23 schools have been chosen for a new program designed to improve learning and reduce suspensions.
The schools will be part of a research project funded by a $3 million Justice Department grant that uses so-called “restorative practices” to address discipline problems.
Speaking at a news conference at Pittsburgh Minadeo PreK-5 in Squirrel Hill, superintendent Linda Lane, U.S. Attorney David Hickton and others said the idea is to develop better relationships between students and teachers with an aim of preventing disruptions that lead to suspensions.
Last year, 1 in 5 students in the city schools received an out-of-school suspension.
If a student does act out despite the new proactive approach, Ms. Lane said, the program calls for students and teachers to talk out problems as opposed to the district automatically suspending the student.
“[Suspensions] will still happen,” she said. “If it happens, we only want it to happen once.”
Mr. Hickton said the program is based on the idea that punishment is not always the best way to alter behavior, an approach increasingly embraced in the world of criminal justice by what he called “an enlightened” Justice Department.
He said he regards the school grant as an “investment” in Pittsburgh students like the group of fifth-graders who attended the conference.
“My fondest hope is that one of you will be standing here someday in my place,” he said.
The grant, first announced in October, will be used for training teachers and administrators in techniques taught by the International Institute for Restorative Practices — such as everyone sitting in a circle to talk things over. Part of the money also will pay for a Rand Corporation study of how the program works this year and next.
Dara Ware Allen, district assistant superintendent of student support services, said the project is designed to give teachers an alternative to punishment.
When a student disrupts a class, fights or otherwise causes trouble, for example, teachers are supposed to use specific questions to help understand the root cause of the behavior and find ways to make things right, thus “restoring” the student to the community without repercussions.
When the grant was announced in the fall, the schools hadn’t been selected, although organizers said half would be part of the program and the other half a control group.
On Wednesday, the district said these 23 schools have been chosen to test the new techniques: Allegheny 6-8, Langley K-8, Brashear High School, South Hills 6-8, Sterrett 6-8, Spring Hill K-5, South Brook 6-8, Mifflin PreK-8, Lincoln K-5, Morrow PreK-8, Minadeo PreK-8, Linden K-5, Westwood K-5, Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, Concord PreK-5, Phillips K-5, Faison PreK-5, Woolslair K-5, West Liberty K-5, Greenfield PreK-8, CAPA 6-12, Beechwood PreK-5 and Banksville PreK-5.
Those schools will be matched with 23 similarly situated schools that will continue to use their own disciplinary programs.
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