Cover Story by Darwin Campbell,
ALDINE– Fixing discipline problems in the Aldine Independent School District has not been a walk in the park, but Superintendent Dr. Wanda Bamberg is honest and upfront admitting the problems the district has and sharing action plans for dealing with them.
“We are aware of the problems and issues even before the OCR report came out,” she said. We track student discipline and behavior and saw it trending in the wrong direction and started the process of fixing it.”
Bamberg was referring to a the report, provided by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, is a compilation of Civil Rights Data Collection on school discipline that covers every school in the nation.
She has held the position as superintendent since 2007. As the district’s executive officer, Dr. Bamberg implements and administers the adopted policies of the Aldine ISD Board of Education in accordance with rules and regulations of the Texas State Agency as well as federal and state laws.
“We appreciate the African-American News&Issues for giving us the opportunity to talk about it,” Bamberg said. “This report created ripples and community feedback.We want to look at what we are doing and things we can do better.”
The alarming report released by the government showed that Black students are more likely targets for school discipline, suspensions and arrests than any other students in our nation’s schools.
According to Bamberg, the report was a wake-up call to district officials and has assured parents and community leaders in the African-American and Hispanic communities that Aldine is a district where educating children is the top priority.
The report provides information on school discipline, suspensions, expulsions, seclusions and restraints in nearly every school in Texas and across the United States.
The report was a sobering snapshot that provides insight into the attitudes towards Black children and what goes on behind the closed doors of every school when it comes to actions against our children.
Bamberg said that the study has the district involved in an active program to discipline and manage itself when it comes to dealing with disruptions, problems and issues between teachers, students and the classroom
According to Aldine ISD information, the district welcomed 67,300 students in 2013-2014 making the school district the 10th largest in Texas.
AISD is a predominantly minority school district. It is made up of 70.8% students of Hispanic origin, 25.1% students of African American origin, and 2% students of white origin.
Aldine employs more than 8,100 people. Approximately 4,200 of those are teachers.
Around 1977 AISD was almost 75% White. During that year the U.S. Justice Department forced Aldine ISD to adopt a desegregation plan. Enacted in 1978, the plan forced the district to redraw attendance boundaries so that no school was more than 30% black.
As of 2002 Hispanic students made up the majority, African Americans were 33%, almost double the 1977 statistic, and less than 8% of the students were White. As of 2002 the desegregation order was still effect, and the district was the only greater Houston school district in Texas still under a federal segregation court order.
The order asked for schools to have a percentage of African American students within 15 percentage points of the district wide Black enrollment. In 2002, schools were required to have between 18% and 48% Black students.
The court order forced AISD to keep African-American faculty within 5% of the overall district percentage points for elementary schools and within 10% of the overall percentage points for secondary schools.
The AISD administration criticized the court order, saying the guidelines were impossible to meet, and started an effort to have it ended.
The desegregation order was removed by a federal judge in December 2002 and the attendance boundaries were redrawn. As of 2014, most AISD students attend the school closest to where they live.
ARRESTS AND REFERRALS – LAW ENFORCEMENT
Police encounters for African-American students are prevalent in public schools systems.
While black students represent 16-percent of student enrollment, they represent 27-percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31-percent of students subjected to and experiencing a school-related arrests. Some Texas urban and suburban area school districts around the state had higher incidents of police involvement and arrests for Black children compared to other areas of similar size around the country.
According to the report, Aldine like many other Texas districts has its fair share of negative marks dealing with disciplines, suspensions, expulsions and police involvement. Aldine had one of the highest number of reports in the area involving student involvements with police.
According to Aldine ISD District activity report, a total of 752 police citations were written involving police in school year 2012-2013. Of those, 346 were for fights and disturbances; 201 were for truancy or truancy related; 140 for marijuana possession; 125 for class disruptions; 125 for vulgar language; 124 for assault by contact; 72 for drugs on found property; 21 for possession of controlled substances; 17 for possession of drug paraphernalia; and 12 for disruption to transportation.
Bamberg noted that one of her main goals has been the review and revising of the relationship that the campus police has on students and the role the police play on Aldine school campuses
“We have struggled with how to define the role of campus police to maintain safety at every school,” she said. “My goal is to change that, and for our children not to just see police when there is trouble. It should be like the old days where if there is an issue you go to the principals office, not the police officer.”
One of the problems with discipline was the overuse of police citations at schools that tend to send kids down a path leading to juvenile justice system.
Bamberg said she has worked with her principals and administrators to reduce citations and to go back to policies that examine individual situations and using school discipline and management policies to handle them.
“In the past, many citations for given for various things from fights to disruptions,” she said. “There will be no more tickets for fights, scuffles or truancy. Discipline will be for discipline only. Citations will only be given when there has been a real crime committed on campus.”
So far, her plan appears to be working because year to date totals show a significant drop in offenses that result in a citation.
Today there have be on 4 tickets written, but drugs and truancy remains an issue in the district with 84 drug incidents reported; 26 for drugs-found property; and 114 truancy and truancy related cases.
Some of those things that might be considered citation offenses or that threaten or cause a safety or security concern include: bomb threats, gang related violence, mob violence, guns or drugs.
SUSPENSIONS AND EXPULSIONS
The study also revealed that African-American students have a suspension an expulsion rate that White.
A breakdown showed that Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate (3X’s) three times greater than white students. On average, only 5-percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16-percent of black students.
Bamberg was quick to talk about better classroom management, teacher training and parental cooperation to help reduce negative behaviors.
She said communication and training are the keys to reducing problems and handling classroom discipline and issues with special education students in schools.
“We have teachers that never send children to the office, never have a discipline and never have a problem,” she said. “However, we also have teachers that are not as skilled and do not work as good with kids and that is where we have our work cut out for us.”
For teachers, that work begins with understanding students, environments, backgrounds and taking that information and developing and following a classroom management plan and discipline management system that is effective. She also does not want her staffs pulling the trigger too quickly on in school suspensions or alternative school assigning.
“We wanted to know how our staffs were being trained because we want our children to see consistency in applying rules and policies so that every student will feel like they are treated fairly no matter what race, creed or color or background,” Bamberg said. “When those rules and plans are not followed according to policy that is where discipline issues start.”
RESTRAINTS & SECLUSIONS (Disability and Race)
Another component of the national report stated issues with restraint and seclusions.
Black students represent 19% of students with disabilities served by IDEA, but 36% of these students who are restrained at school through the use of a mechanical device or equipment designed to restrict their freedom of movement.
The superintendent made it clear that focusing on increasing knowledge, more understanding and using preventive measures are key areas to making improvements in those areas.
When teachers have deficiencies, Bamberg has instructed administrators and focus groups to ensure that teacher get the proper training and mentoring needed to better manage any type of classroom.
The district also has summer training each year called “Tools for Teaching” to help improve the teacher’s ability to manage and use skills better and more consistently during disruptions and other issues.
To help bolster the success of the new focus to reduce discipline incidents, Bamberg also involves both students and parents.
“We want parents and students to be aware that all campuses have discipline management plans and code of conduct standards,” she said. “Both student and parents are required to sign off on the plans so that everyone understands expectations.”
She also said that the school committee meets regularly and reviews incidents that occur in hallway, classrooms, cafeteria or that end up in the office and debriefs on lessons learned and better ways to handle situations.
“We want things right,” she said. “There are times when the system has not worked like it should have worked. When that occurs, we go back, evaluate it and address it.”
Some of the details that should send red flags that indicate that Black children have targets on their backs and are victims of the stereotypes provided in society, education and media that lower expectations and opinions about them.
“Our goal is to give our children the best opportunity to come to school, be in a safe learning environment and succeed,” she said. “We don’t know how others districts handle problems, but we want to make sure parents and students understand that we want each feeling safe, secure and that education is the first priority, not giving citations or calling police.”
Inequality is a very real challenge to African-American children trying to get and education in the public school system.
Education is a game changer and without it, it is hard to compete in this 21st Century economy.
This reports clearly raised real questions about how difficult it is for Black children to get a good education barring the obstacles they currently face.
Bamberg and her team have not run from the problem, but stepped up in open transparency to deal with it.
She said each month the school board reviews reports on discipline in every school and monitors progress of each campus. The reports are public and available for review.
Their self-monitoring system for its school and for dealing with special education students has been recognized by the Texas Education Agency.
The AISD Board of Education is comprised of seven elected community members. It was one of 24 school boards across the nation, and the only one in Texas, to receive the coveted Magna Award in 1999 from the American School Board Journal. Additionally, the AISD Board received the 2013 Region 4 Outstanding School Board Award, which the Board also received in 1998.
Bamberg hopes more parents will join advisory groups and share ways the district can improve.
“We consider what we have done a proactive move on our part,” she said. “This is very important to us because we believe the best place for children is in school and in the classroom, not at home, not in the office or in SAC (detention).”
“We should regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into the future with us.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
Aldine ISD and Dr. Bamberg are to be commended for being on top of this issue and for their proactive attempts to train teachers and communicate with parents and community leaders about the issues facing the education of children living in the district.
Parents and community leaders must take the time and get more serious about being involved in the education lives of their children and demand accountability from superintendents, school boards and principals when it comes to our children.