Potsdam Central making changes to the way it handles student discipline
Saturday, September 7, 2019 - 8:44 am

BY MATT LINDSEY

North Country This Week

POTSDAM – Potsdam Central School is changing the way it handles discipline for its students.

“This year, we will begin implementing restorative practices,” PCS Superintendent Joann Chambers said. “We are coming to understand that we cannot change student behavior through a strictly punitive approach.”

While the district will always have a Code of Conduct and disciplinary consequences, they want more tools in their toolbox to truly hold students accountable for the harm they have done, she said.

Restorative practices are proactive strategies to foster relationships and build community.

“When the community is strong, individuals feel heard, accepted, and valued, and conflict (and misconduct) is less likely to occur because needs are being met,” Chambers said.

Chambers thinks of restorative practices as having three tiers.

The entire school community will be engaged in Tier I, which entails creating opportunities for building community.

“In fact, it will be a district focus this year to create time and space for all members of our school community to engage in productive conversations, forge meaningful relationships, and foster problem-solving,” she said.

A much smaller segment of the population will be involved in Tier 2 strategies. They come into play when a member of the school community has caused harm.

“We hope to use restorative conversations and harm circles to help students understand the impact of their actions and provide a structured opportunity for them to be held accountable by exploring ways to repair the harm they have caused,” Chambers said.

A few students may be involved in Tier 3. This may occur, for example, after a student has been suspended out of school for a long time. A re-entry circle is a way to help bring that student back into the school community in a safe and supportive way.

Last school year, 44 teachers, teacher assistants, and administrators were trained in restorative practices and 21 members of that group attended an intensive three-day advanced training this summer.

“Restorative practices have resonated with many of us in the district, as the approach is truly aligned with our district mission. If we want our students to live fulfilled lives as compassionate, productive, and engaged citizens, they need to understand the importance of community and be taught how to take responsibility for their actions,” Chambers said.