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School gets serious about changing student behavior

As part of a response to a bullying incident one year ago, the Saranac Lake Central School District announced a new system for monitoring and correcting behavior in the school.

Last June, a middle school student was the victim of racial slurs and vandalism. Unknown students looted her backpack, stole or damaged contents, and wrote a racial slur on the sidewalk with her deodorant.

In a letter published last summer in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Superintendent Gerald Goldman and school board members said, "We cannot allow what happened to this child happen to another. As educators, we can and will do better."

During a board meeting last week, Goldman said that the school is changing the way it thinks about bullying and other inappropriate behavior.

"[Staff] has an obligation to say I witnessed this, I'm [reporting it] and we have employees stepping up on this who in the past would have just said, 'I'm a custodian, this isn't my concern,'" Goldman said.

"This is my vision: it's that a kindergarten kid would turn to a third grader and say, 'don't do that; it's wrong,'" he added.

That's one reason why Dan Bower, the district's assistant superintendent for business, is spearheading the new behavior program.

"A lot of people would say, 'why is the finance guy doing PBIS, Positive Behavior Intervention Supports?'" Bower said. "But we're all part of the district and I thought it was a great connection."

Bower said each school has coaches that lead teams in charge of implementing the new program. The teams are armed with a high tech program that keeps a record of behavior on each student.

High school teacher Jen Moore is one of the coaches.

"We have this crazy program that shows us every behavior incident that's occurred in the high school since 2005," Moore said. "And now we can set up charts based on time of day, type of incident, location of incident, and we can find out exactly where in the building we have the most instances."

Now Moore said teachers know where the problems are and will target locations and students with the most problems.

"The expectations for each area will be taught on the first day of school, at location," Moore said. "So we are actually going to take high school students to the bathroom and teach them bathroom behavior so that when you walk into a bathroom that's trashed we can say, 'hey we taught you this behavior.'"

Goldman said staff efforts to change the culture of the school help ensure that every student feels safe.

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