Highlight: Pioneer High School, Woodland
Interview with Principal Kerry Callahan
Why did you decide to implement the School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) system for your school?
Before I came to this school, I worked at a school in Galt that partnered with the Youth Development Network (YDN), which is an organization that provides training and professional development to schools and other groups that work with youth. YDN has a framework around youth development that starts with safety, relationships and participation. Youth development is a philosophy that guides the policies of the school. Through, my work with YDN, I quickly learned that adults and young people don’t get into relationships if there is no safety and relationships are broken when safety ends. When I came to Pioneer High as the Vice Principal, I implemented several youth development projects. One of the features was that school wide rules were all the same. Then, within each classroom, teachers and students would enter into agreements about what those rules meant that would value the students’ emotional needs.
During my second year as Principal, the Woodland Joint Unified School District (WJUSD) Director of Student Services, Debbie Morris was engaged in PBIS, through Placer County Office of Education (PCOE) and the Building Effective Communities Together (BEST) curriculum, which is based on based on the School Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports model developed at the University of Oregon and National Center on PBIS (www.pbis.org). We were introduced to BEST at a curriculum instruction meeting, which all principals attend. Schools were given the choice whether to be part of phase one, and we jumped right on.
What was the climate of the school like before you implemented SWPBIS?
There were a lot of gang issues at the school. The first year I was here, there was a huge riot. We had a big issue with bystanders. There were only ten kids actually in the fight but we were unable to break it up because of all the kids around that were excited to watch. That’s a school climate issue. So we had to deal with it.
Our suspensions were mostly to Latino boys, some of the boys were in special education and some of those in special education were emotionally disturbed. About six students per day were being suspended, primarily for drugs, fights and “willful defiance.” Parent involvement was pretty non-existent. There were 60 members of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), but only about three would come to meetings.
Additionally, there were tensions between students and teachers. For instance, we have a rule that no cell phones are allowed on campus and one student had his cell phone out in class but told the teacher it was an emergency. The teacher let him use his cell phone, only to find out that the kid called his mother to bring his tennis shoes for gym. Of course, the teacher referred him to the office but to the student that was an emergency.
When did you put in place alternative discipline practices and can you describe some of them?
In 2010-2011, we made several significant changes. We did a training to get every teacher in the school on the same page and then implemented PBIS with the 9th grade team. We taught the 9th graders the three rules — be safe, be respectful and be responsible. Teachers actively pushed strategies, such as creating classroom or hallway rules that fit our big three rules and sending home positive notes. We also reinforced good ninth grade behavior with Patriot Pats, play money that can be redeemed for prizes, which are given to a student who is exhibiting positive behavior. By the time Year 1 of PBIS was over, we saw much more parent involvement because we had had hundreds of parent conferences. We utilized our three tiered intervention protocol.
In 2011-12, reflecting on all the lessons we learned in Year 1, we made adjustments and rolled out PBIS systemically to all grades.
What kind of training did you receive for BEST, who went and how did it help change what you were already doing?
Four ninth grade team leaders, an English Language teacher, my secretary, one of the vice principals, our lead security officer and I received training from the Placer County Office of Education (PCOE). We attended five sessions over five weeks. This training cost about $500 to $1000 per person. We paid for it with a Safe Schools Healthy Communities federal grant. Additionally, PCOE provided a few small follow-up trainings and coaching.
The team that went to the BEST training at PCOE became our leadership team on PBIS implementation. We came together on a regular basis to talk about how to implement strategies and collect data; we put together PowerPoint presentations for the teachers and staff that didn’t attend the BEST training at PCOE. We worked with everyone to develop a three tiered intervention protocol and they disseminated it to the rest of staff and students. The intervention protocol gives the teacher numerous steps of interventions before referring a student to the office. We also focused on three school wide rules: be safe, respectful, and responsible. Then, we had teachers and support staff make detailed rules about what Be Safe, Respectful and Responsible looks like in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and in all of the key areas of the school.
When you first implemented PBIS at Pioneer, were there setbacks or a bumpy phase where things were not going the way you had expected?
The biggest obstacle was changing staff mentality. There were a lot of old-school teachers who feel it is their job to teach and the students’ job to learn. If they don’t show up and they don’t want to learn, then they need to get out of my class. Some believe that some kids should not be here: “Why are we even trying to keep them in school?” There are some people who think building culture is fluffy. Some teachers didn’t feel supported, like “Why are you taking the kids’ side over mine?”
I had to have difficult conversations with these teachers about my expectations. I believe that you can’t change a person’s belief system but you can change their behavior. I f they see and hear about positive outcomes, then they’ll change their behavior accordingly. You won’t get a hundred percent a hundred percent of the time. You must be willing to have those conversations. As a principal, I expect my staff to behave in a certain way, and I’ve had several teachers who converted. There was a science teacher who was number one in office referrals, after the trainings and experiencing positive results, he no longer sends students to the office.
How is the climate of the school after you got past the bumpy phase? What other changes have you experienced?
Oh my gosh, calmer! Kids are running to class, opening doors for people to go inside. There is a lot more school spirit. We experience far fewer negative behaviors on campus, even though there are a lot more students on campus. Suspensions went down from 6 per day to about 1-2 per day in 2011-2012. However, we are still seeing disproportionality in suspensions of Latino boys. We are doing research on methods for combating this and to learn about the cultural disconnect that our mostly white staff is having with Latino boys.
There is now a lot more parent and community involvement. For instance, I now have a PAC, a principal action committee. They help get things done, including revising the parent-student handbook, painting doors and donating snacks for testing. The PTA now has 700 paying members and about 30 regularly attend meetings, this is a vast improvement that didn’t come until after we engaged the kids more.
We used to have a problem with trash being thrown everywhere and that just went away without us even targeting it. I think it’s because of school pride, meaning when students feel more connected to their school and the adults on campus, they feel more comfortable and safe. Then they want to make sure it’s a good place to be, so they don’t throw trash everywhere.
Do you issue any in-school suspensions, Saturday school, and community service?
Yes, the in-school suspension (ISS) room is a place where students do homework and restorative work. In the ISS room students meet with their teacher during their prep period and also administration sometimes. Since students wouldn’t show up on Saturdays, we now have Friday after-school from 3-6pm where students do school work and sometimes work with the custodian to help clean the school. Students are sent to Friday after-school for some things in the Education Code, such as repeated and continued defiance or for missing a detention. Sometimes the person in charge of Friday school takes the students to visit the Wayfarer Center, a non-profit serving the hungry and homeless in the community, and they serve meals.
How much does it cost per school year to implement these alternatives? How are you paying for them?
PBIS doesn’t really cost anything, maybe $2000 on PBIS materials, like the Patriot Pats we give to kids for good behavior and our school-wide rule posters. It doesn’t cost money to change. It takes time. It’s simple. If you spend time at the beginning to do it right and teach students the expectations, you save so much time and energy and you gain positive feelings when things are going smoothly. Additionally, teachers have time to teach because they aren’t dealing with behavior issues all the time. It’s ultimately the idea that if you don’t remediate the problem that existed then it will just continue. These practices remediate and change the behavior.
We also contracted with YDN for support and training. This cost us $30,000.00 in 2009 and $40,000.00 in 2010. I paid for this using federal Economic Impact Aid (EIA) funds that are given to schools that serve under-performing, low income and English Language Learner (ELL) students. However, YDN builds capacity and trained me to be certified in youth development strategies so I don’t have to pay them anymore. I contracted with YDN because I wanted the support but the research is out there on what youth need to be successful.
Since the implementation of PBIS and BEST, PHS has experienced a reduction in suspensions and an increase in academic performance index (API) points.
In one year, implementation resulted in savings of $97,200. The Principal gives credit to PBIS for the following results:
- Average Daily Attendance (ADA) is up: 30 more students attending daily, based on 95.46% for 2011 school year to date, up from 93.52%
- Suspensions are down: 65% reduction in suspensions – 2.2 days of suspension assigned per day of school in 2011-2012 school year to date, down from 6.3 days in the prior school year
- Academic Performance is up: 718 API score in 2010-11, a gain of 46 points from the prior school year
Feel free to call me:
Kerry Callahan, Principal
Pioneer High School
Youth Development Network – www.ydnetwork.org,
Challenge Day - www.challengeday.org
Woodland Joint Unified School District, Building Effective Communities Together - www.wjusd.org/BEST
Placer County Office of Education - Provides PBIS training and coaching support to any school in the Northern region of California that wants to implement SWPBIS. – www.placercoe.k12.ca.us
Excerpted from Pioneer High School “Fact Sheet” on School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions & Support Implementation.Based on $18/day lost.