Before the start of the 2009-10 school year, the West Fargo School District Transportation Department restructured its disciplinary guidelines.
So far, the results have been impressive, to say the least.
Transportation Director Brad Redmond explained at Monday's school board meeting why change was needed. The biggest reason, he said, was because there was inconsistency with punishment among drivers. The old standard was to give a student a warning and any consequential misbehavior would result in suspension from riding the bus.
Superintendent Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace noted that this wasn't necessarily the best course of action because some students weren't making it to school at all after being forced off the bus for extended periods of time.
Redmond also said that he would receive calls from angry parents who disagreed with the punishment handed down to their child.
Therefore, a change was in order. Redmond explained that the goal of the transportation department was to "align conduct with consequences." Basically, this meant gauging conduct into two categories: low-level and high-level offenses.
The next step was to focus on training drivers, Redmond said. Drivers were shown how to handle situations in a professional manner and were taught what steps to take if an infraction occurred.
The biggest change to the disciplinary system has been with how infractions are handled. Instead of the old zero-tolerance mindset, now low-level offenses are handled within the school.
"This has probably made the biggest impact on students," Redmond said. As examples, some common consequences for low-level offenses in elementary school are to miss recess or to eat lunch in the principal's office, he said. This has helped to reduce bus misconduct.
Drivers also document low-level offenses and don't bring them to the school's attention until a third infraction has occurred.
High-level offenses are brought directly to the principal's attention. Here again, the appropriate discipline is dealt based on the crime, Redmond said. If suspension from riding the bus is warranted it is carried out, but not until the bus driver has gone through all the necessary disciplinary steps.
The results from the changes to bus policy have been striking compared to the same timeframe last season through November, Redmond has seen a 62 percent drop in conduct reports.
"That's about 223 reports less than last year at this time," he said.
And, Redmond said, he hasn't received a single parent complaint about the new system.
Art important for students
Part of Dr. Diesel Wallace's plans for the West Fargo school district has been an increased emphasis on the idea of World Class Education. The idea, in a nutshell, is to focus on how other schools are successful from around the world and assimilate their practices into West Fargo's curriculum.
One aspect brought to the forefront during Monday's school board meeting was that of increasing World Class art education throughout the district.
The push for art education isn't just about finger painting and paper mache, however. Teachers explained that art helps develop divergent, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The hands-on approach of art also helps students who may require more of a kinesthetic learning style.
Art teachers and instructors from several schools made their voices heard and expressed their concern over the current state of art education at West Fargo schools.
There has been a drastic drop in the amount of time students are allotted to learn about art. Chris Boyle, an art specialist who teaches grades 1-5 at seven elementary schools, noted that in 2004, grades 3-5 were allotted 900 minutes annually for art education. Now, she said, students are only given 360 minutes, though the grades have been expanded to include first and second.
Boyle also questioned if the district actually was meeting the 45 minutes per week required by the state of North Dakota for teaching art.
Other teachers mirrored this concern, and noted that the drop in art hasn't only effected time allowed, but teachers and teaching space. The recently implemented block scheduling system also has cut into art learning time, board Director Patti Stedman said, and hasn't allowed students who may want to learn about art to do so.
"The art program is losing ground," one teacher said. "Our concern is keeping up."
"Art will play a very important part" in the school district's future, School Board President Thomas Gentzkow said. "We will look into it."
Chris Kalsow was recently named Adaptive Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
The West Fargo School Board unanimously approved a motion to recommend expansion of the STEM Center in 2010.
Westside Elementary teacher Beverly Westphal's request to be released from her contract was approved. Her desire to leave was because of an oversight in coming out of retirement.
District Athletic Director Curt Jones gave an athletics update. His wish is that the district considers creating more opportunities for students who want to participate in sports. With the current system, many students are cut because there are not enough teams to play on or against. If more schools would consider adding "B" teams to their agenda, there may be opportunity for more athletes to compete. The board said it would take the issue into consideration.