Highlight on: Leataata Floyd (formerly Jed Smith) Elementary School, Sacramento City Unified School District
Leataata Floyd Elementary School is located in Sacramento City USD. The school serves 278, K-6 students. Of those students, 55% are black or African American, 21% are Hispanic or Latino, 9% are Asian, 7% are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 4% are multiracial, 3% are white, and 1% are American Indian or Alaskan Native.
Interview with Billy Aydlett, Principal and Cory Jones, Assistant Principal
Tell me about how you came to work at Leataata Floyd Elementary and about the climate of the school before you instituted Positive Behavior Support (PBIS) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?
Principal Billy Aydlett (BA): Three years ago, the Superintendent implemented No Child Left Behind’s school reform requirements at schools in the District that had been labeled failing schools. Under NCLB, there are four ways to change a school and the Superintendent decided to put in an entirely new leadership team and provide an option to rehire the school staff. He named the initiative to reform failing schools, like ours, the Priority School Initiative. He brought me in as the Principal because I was a successful Principal at one of our more affluent schools. He asked me to do anything that I could to make kids like school. This job had a lot of responsibility and flexibility.
This school was being operated like a school from the 1950s but, obviously, things have changed. The school had an in-school suspension model that involved students being sent to a room called the “Dungeon.” The school’s leadership had hired a substitute to watch the students in the Dungeon and make them sit quietly. They did not receive any instruction and they were not given any school work to do. Additionally, the room was full of black and brown boys.
Under the Superintendent’s No Child Left Behind Priority School Initiative, teachers and staff were given the choice to leave at the end of the year. Mr. Jones and I let the instructional staff know our goals for transforming the school, which included, among other things, daily use of technology tools during instruction to increase student engagement; daily use of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching strategies; Individual Learning Plans for high achieving students; regular after school team meetings to discuss data, instructional response, and intervention; and extended day instruction. After learning what our goals were, eleven of our thirteen instructional staff left.
Why did you decide to implement PBIS and SEL?
BA: We had focused on rigorous academic instruction. From the beginning of Day One, we knew that we prepared for the wrong thing.
Assistant Principal Cory Jones (CJ): <starts laughing>
What’s so funny?
CJ: It’s not really funny but it was immediately obvious that we had more serious work to do to get students ready to learn. On the first day of school, after we had sent all the kids to class, a kindergartner continued to play outside and made no moves to go to class. I went over to her told her who I was and asked her name. She looked at me, said nothing, turned around and continued playing. I asked her again and she told me, “You’re a stranger, I don’t know you, I don’t have to listen to what you say.”
BA: I saw this happening and it was humbling and inspiring.
CJ: Later, at the end of the first day, we had a meeting with the staff to talk about how things had gone and one teacher, who is usually very good at establishing relationships and reaching kids just broke down and cried. She basically went through her entire bag of teaching strategies and tricks that had been successful at other schools and she didn’t get the desired effects. She felt like she was ill prepared to teach these students and felt sorrow at how academically and socially behind the students already were.
BA: What I learned is that what our students need the most is not negative consequences and zero tolerance policies. What our students need is absolutely consistent and urgent support around maintaining appropriate behavior. They need to feel valued and confident in school. The traditional model says, “Throw kids out for refusing to listen to you.” After a couple of weeks of experiencing more of what we had experienced the first day, we held school-wide staff meeting and asked, “What can we do differently?”
How then did you decide to implement PBIS and SEL?
BA: We are a full inclusion model school. This means that all of our special education students are mainstreamed and receive instruction in the same classroom as our regular education students. We initially received an inclusive practices training. The only part of that training that was particularly good was PBIS, as a subset of inclusive practices. We further sought out training from the employees of Ravenswood because the demographics of their schools are similar to ours and they had been implementing PBIS as part of a court settlement and seeing dramatic and good results for children. We also attended a PBIS training in Placer County.
We had heard about the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL’s) Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) because Sacramento is one of the districts collaborating with CASEL. Through CDI, the District has received a planning grant of $125,000 and is eligible to apply for implementation grants in fall 2012. This grant pays for whatever the district and CASEL decide would be best. In our case, the grant pays for Second Step, a multimedia SEL curriculum that assists teachers with teaching SEL skills in the classroom, which costs about $3,000. Cory and I heard that there would be a CASEL meeting. We assertively invited ourselves to the meeting. Getting resources to help your school improve sometimes takes aggressive advocacy.
How can other school and district leaders bring PBIS and SEL into their schools?
I would recommend that other Principals and educators contact the PBIS main office for their region or county, if one exists. At Placer County Office of Education, as a part of their special education team, they had PBIS experts and were using federal Individuals with Disability Education Act funding to help schools like ours implement BIS. I also really recommend contacting CASEL directly; they are very helpful people who will provide guidance about implementing SEL in your school.
What changes did you make to your curriculum or school structure to implement PBIS and SEL?
BA: At the time, we had two curriculum instruction training specialists. We designated one of those training specialists to be a full time SEL and PBIS person. While instruction is very important, Academic Percentage Index (API) points are not immediately important to the families we serve.
We eliminated the Dungeon because it was stupid. When you are dealing with kids who are disengaged with school it doesn’t make any sense to take them out of it.
Additionally, we started taking and recording data. We have three data tracking systems. First, we use Google Docs to create a database for tracking office referrals. Second, Mr. Jones inputs that data into ZANGLE, which is the district-wide student information system. Finally, we also use a program called School-wide Information System (SWIS), which tracks where and when behavioral incidents occur and tracks Tier 2 SWPBIS interventions, such as Check-in/Check-out systems, for individual students.
BA: Fortunately, after that first year of redesign no one left. Changing the culture of a school is difficult and you have to work with some teachers who don’t necessarily agree. Of course, there is still a lot of work to do.
What does PBIS look like on a daily basis?
BA: At our school, there are three tiers of interventions. At Tier 1, all students are taught that our school-wide rules and expectations in all areas of the school are to be responsible, respectful, and hardworking. Students are taught lessons from the Second Step curriculum about three times a week in their classrooms. There is also a clear positive behavior support system with rewards for good behavior that is witnessed in all areas of the school. The students earn Panther Way tickets that can be redeemed. Tier 1 serves about 90% of our students.
Tier 2 includes Check In/Check Out procedure for about 6% of students who need a more focused attention. If there is a student exhibiting behavior that goes against the school-wide expectations, we create a contract with that student, detailing the targeted behavior. That student then checks in with us, or another designated adult, in the morning, before recess, before lunch and at end of the day. The staff member is responsible for detailing whether the student needs support or is doing well managing his/her behavior.
Tier 3 is for individual students who need the most intensive instruction. At this level, intervention can take many forms, including working with the parents of that student in the school and referral to the counselor. In order to make what we’re doing meaningful, we need to spend time talking to kids about the PBIS and SEL systems at school.
(BA discusses the Tier 1 interventions, Second Step and positive behavior reinforcement system with two 4th grade students and a 1st grade student.)
BA: So, what happens when you are caught doing good in school?
4th grade boy at Leataata School: You earn Panther Way tickets when you are being good. The Green tickets are for recess for being helpful, like helping to put balls away. The orange tickets are for the cafeteria by not cutting the line or running around. Then kids write their name on the ticket and put them in a bucket. If your name is picked out of the bucket, you can get privileges like playing on the iPad, or helping count the tickets, or eating lunch on stage or with the Principal or Vice Principal.
BA: Teachers teach SEL lessons from the Second Step curriculum about three times per week. This includes 5-10 minute transitional videos and pictures. Let’s take a look at a classroom implementing the curriculum.
(BA opens the door to the classroom) So, in this first grade classroom, students are mastering Focusing Attention, Self-talk – calming yourself down when you are angry or upset – and Avoiding Distractions.
BA stops outside the first grade classroom, where a first grader shares a picture of 3 students doing schoolwork and one student looking around the room. The first grader points at the picture and explains:
1st Grade Girl: He’s not focusing attention, and we are helping him focus attention.
BA: How is he not focusing attention?
1st Grade Girl: Everyone is working and he’s looking at them and not his paper.
BA: What are some things he can do to focus his attention?
1st Grade Girl: He could look at his own paper and not get distracted.
BA opens the door to a fourth grade classroom where students are playing a “Name That Emotion” game. One student goes to the front of the classroom, picks an emotion from the board and models it for the rest of the class. In a classroom with 35 fourth graders, all are absolutely silent during transitions in the game and all raise their hands before speaking.
Two fourth graders join BA outside the classroom to discuss why they are using Second Step:
4th Grade Boy: Second Step helps us with trying to figure out what other people’s feelings are and if they’re sad so we can help them out.
BA: Why is that important?
4th Grade Girl: It’s important to help people fix their problems because when people are happy, they make good choices and go all the way up to a successful career.
What does it cost to implement PBIS and SEL at your school?
BA: PBIS is not expensive; it’s about $300 (300 dollars) yearly. Anyone who says money is a factor or a barrier to implementing an alternative discipline practice doesn’t want to change. This reluctance to implement these alternatives is just an extension of white privilege and not wanting to change to serve your community.
The Second Step curriculum, which provides SEL instruction, costs about $3000 and is paid for through CASEL’s CDI grant to SCUSD. Similar, grants have been granted to eight other large school districts.
What benefits have you experienced as a result of implementing PBIS and SEL at your school?
BA: There is no longer a 75% attrition rate at this school. Our teaching staff is much more stable than it had been. Students and parents are much more engaged with school and what is happening here. Finally, we haven’t had any suspensions or expulsions so far this year. I don’t want to speak in absolutes, because sometimes we are constrained by the Education Code, but I would like to take suspension “completely” off the table.
Feel free to call us:
Principal Billy Aydlett
Assistant Principal Cory Jones