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School board decides to add Career and Technical Education focus at A. Quinn Jones to address discipline issues

School Board Member Diyonne McGraw weighs in on alternative school models at the May 3 workshop | From Alachua County Public Schools broadcast video

BY AMBER THIBODAUX

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Alachua County School Board held a workshop on May 3 where they discussed the ongoing behavioral issues and discipline problems facing the district and how best to deal with them. Chief of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement Anntwanique Edwards gave a presentation that outlined six different models (shown below) that the school board could implement to provide further assistance to teachers and students. All six models focused on removing or relocating students with behavioral issues and giving them extra support in more structured settings. Edwards told the board that the referral rate has “skyrocketed,” not just in secondary schools but also in elementary schools, and that the types of behaviors leading to the referrals are of major concern.

Slide from Dr. Edwards’ presentation at May 3 workshop

“We know that increased trauma has occurred with many of our students, especially since COVID, and we would like to minimize the number of various behavioral types that are sitting on one campus,” Edwards said. She noted the various “neighborhood associated issues” (i.e., rival gangs) that carry over to school campuses but said she couldn’t say with certainty that those conflicts would be resolved by creating a second alternative school. She also mentioned the increase in student weapons charges and gang affiliations and worried about separating those students out while at the same time serving their individual needs off-site.

Career and Technical Education focus

After listening to the pros and cons of each model and associated costs, the board unanimously agreed to proceed with Model 4, which would change the service delivery at A. Quinn Jones (currently the only alternative placement school in the district) to a Career and Technical Education (CTE) focus. Edwards told the board that she had spent extensive time looking at alternative schools across the nation to see which models work best.

“What appears to be most consistent with alternative school placements is really about how we’re delivering services to students – being able to provide those wrap-around services, helping kids to be able to make connections between where they are now and their future, how they’re going to be prepared for it, the employability skills,” Edwards said.

She explained that those students who were most successful were graduating from their alternative school placements instead of going back to their zoned schools, then asked the board to consider investing more money into a setting where a CTE program and mental health services are offered all in one place. 

“There are kids who typically do well in smaller settings, and I think it is probably the fallacy a lot of times in education and other support areas where we take students and we put them into settings, and they do well, and they’re successful, and then we put them back into places where they were unsuccessful – when in reality, the culture and the environment of the small setting was what allowed them to have that success.”

Currently the student-teacher ratio at A. Quinn Jones is very low, with some classes having between 0-3 students per teacher (zero in cases where no students show up to class). The school has 181 spots available but only 107 students are enrolled; 21 of those students have committed felony offenses, and 31 are transfers from other alternative programs or school districts. The school is designed with an exit plan for students to return back to their zoned schools if possible. However, under the proposed Model 4, students at A. Quinn Jones would be provided with alternate education opportunities that are predicted to be of high interest, would receive instruction based on their individual learning styles and needs, and would be given help in behavior support and career readiness preparation. These students would ultimately graduate from A. Quinn Jones.

Edwards also suggested partnering with UF to deploy Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) interns at various schools, since the county only has one BCBA currently employed to serve the entire district.

Edwards said she had spoken with some people at UF and found that they provide other districts with BCBA interns, but not Alachua County. She concluded, “I think they are definitely amenable and open and so we have some upcoming conversations about how can we partner with [UF] in order to be able to get some of that insight from the people who specialize in working with behavior.”

Several factors have delayed staff’s response to board requests for better discipline

Edwards completed her presentation by acknowledging the “delayed responses” in addressing the behavior issues and said the delay had been caused by a lack of existing systems, the difficulty of creating a new system while dealing with day-to-day responsibilities, labor shortages, a lack of written documentation, and an increased number of crisis situations that require an immediate response.

Slide from Dr. Edwards’ presentation at the May 3 workshop

McGraw and Abbitt emphasize the need for communication and consistency

Board Member Diyonne McGraw said that she continues to be in favor of an additional alternative school because most of the staff members she’s spoken with say that the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model that the district currently follows is not working. “When a kid brings a gun to school and when someone is continuing to attack, they need to be pulled out, they need to be worked with,” McGraw said.

McGraw also addressed the importance of parental involvement and a Parent Academy, saying that she continuously receives phone calls from parents who need help: “Once we build relationships and you’re talking to parents, that’s extremely important.” 

“It’s not about snatching a kid out and separating them, but sometimes, given where we are past COVID, because there’s a lack of discipline – consistent discipline – in the homes, it is affecting us here at the school system. So when you talk about this, this is a lot of work. That’s why you need all the players,” McGraw said.

Member Kay Abbitt stressed the importance of having equal and consistent consequences for negative behaviors so parents and teachers understand what the consequences are for specific infractions. “If I vape in a bathroom, this is my consequence. It doesn’t matter if you’re an A student in school, or an F student in school, or purple or pink – this is what’s going to happen.”

“If you don’t know what the consequence is and if it’s not enforced consistently at schools – and I know for a fact that it’s not because I’ve spoken to teachers and deans and it’s not enforced… to me these things are very simple. You have a rule that someone has to follow, and you have a consequence, and you enforce it,” Abbitt said.

She also emphasized that the district needs to have a behavioral plan in place and “market it like crazy” with a no-nonsense approach, as well as a “Professional Development” plan that goes out to parents who may need help with learning coping skills or parenting techniques.

Chair Tina Certain wrapped up the discussion by taking an informal vote to proceed with Model 4 at an estimated cost of $64,000+, the least expensive of all the models proposed. She reminded the board that “something is going to have to be cut” to secure the funding. 

The workshop can be watched in its entirety here.

  • There is no excuse to allow thug-students who have to wear ankle monitors to be in mainstream classes with students who follow the rules.

    • 1. What does a chief of equity and inclusion have anything to to with this? Is it because the kids with behavioral problems are mostly black?

      2. If these kids are going to do adult crimes, than treat them as adults and put them in regular jail.

      3. I see they are not letting a good crisis go to waste… Covid is such BS. Those masks are useless and interfere with communication. The real purpose of the mask is psychological and to scare people away…it’s where social distancing came from. Only hypochondriacs, control freaks, marxist commie social justice types, and criminals who want to hide their faces from being identified still wear them. It seems that it’s a political statement and more black people wear them like the woman in the photo with this article. If you have cancer and are receiving chemo or have a compromised immune system and need to wear a mask, then you are excused from my comment.

  • Don’t they already have a Student Conduct Code handbook? They could add the punishments for all the violations to the handbook.

    • I don’t know if they still do it, but there used to be a table in the discipline guidebook that gave maximum AND minimum punishments.

  • Strange why “something has to be cut” to pay for a BASIC common courtesy matter.

  • Let me see if I understand part of this. “Currently the student-teacher ratio at A. Quinn Jones is very low, with some classes having between 0-3 students per teacher.”
    Part of increasing the chances of a student’s success is smaller classroom populations or so we’ve been told. How much smaller does it have to be?

    Common sense would say it’s one of 2 problems. The student, (1st choice), and/or the teacher, (2nd choice). Those are the only two variables. There are almost 80 positions available for “difficult” students and we’re still having problems with kids in mainstream schools? Seems like the issue lies more in the quest for the PC approved equity plan.

    How can those “unfilled” seats be filled? Start at home – in the pocketbook. Suspend all government assistance until the parent can get their child or children in school. If you want to live at the government’s expense you should have to do what the government requires.

    The SBAC needs to reform their discipline and identification criteria to keep the children who want to learn in a safe and secure environment just that – safe. Stop deflecting, stop ignoring, stop brushing it under the rug hoping it will go away. It won’t until the kids committing these behavioral and criminal acts are put in an environment who have the personnel more trained at handling criminal behaviors.

    You can’t fix those who don’t want to be any more than you can fix stupid.

    • Government assistance has caused this problem. More babies equals more money! Mostly no Fathers in the home. Or they’re being raised by anyone other than a parent.
      I totally agree with termination of government assistance until someone at home assists.
      Wow, what a cranial thought,
      Teach them a skill or trade so they can find employment.
      Wonder how many focus group, task force meetings on the tax payers dime, did it take to arrive at this conclusion?
      Now, go vote yourself in a pay raise!

      • Sometimes it’s better the father or crazy single mother isn’t around, and grandparents raise them. Grandparents know what they did wrong the first time, and won’t let it happen again, in some cases at least.
        This is why housing patterns must include single occupancy, owned not rented, efficiency units for single young adults who graduated high school — not for temp. couples or “families” — singles with diplomas to pay a low mortgage instead of section 8 or shared roommate rents. Shared bedroom roommates often lead to family drama, civil, and criminal acts. Because there’s no alternative in housing. It’s almost as if the Dems and lawyers WANT young adults creating endless golden gooses for their own gov’t jobs and programs… 👹🤡🤬🍦🍦🍦🍦🍦

        • How about personal responsibility? Boom! There’s your answer. Don’t breed em if you can educate & feed em!

  • Well, they’ve talked the talk. Will they walk the walk? How about discipline on the bus and teachers being able to have trouble makers removed from their classes? They need support for students reporting bullies too.

  • “something is going to have to be cut” to secure the funding.
    Oh well, more potholes and bad roads will remain for the foreseeable future. Sigh

  • Half a billion dollar annual budget and they still can’t find any available funds for a historically basic school service/program. Ever considered slicing down a few layers of the bloated admin bureaucracy?

  • So as I drift out of the haze of this meetings comments and return to reality I find myself wondering why the existing rules are not enforced better. It seems to me that the teachers at AQJ do not know what they are doing. If issues of gang rivals is a problem remove the kid. If he or she can not concentrate on education then they dont need to be there. How about a dress code where no gang colors are permitted. If you are on felony bond awaiting trial then you dont need to be un a school where other kids are trying to learn. The Covid issue is the progressive left’s fault and the school boards fault for letting people scare the hell out of everyone. Job preparation classes for felons awaiting trial or sentencing is a waste of time and resources. And the final drop of icing on the cake. Parental/professional courses to teach people to be parents. This probably should have been thought of prior to birthing a criminal. These kids learn the criminal behavior at home too. I can remember watching parents yelling and beating their kids for getting caught by the police instead of actually committing a crime.

    • The problem is that these parents don’t care, and they don’t have any involvement with their kids’ schooling. We ran into this when one of our kids was having problems with a little gang of kids from one particular part of town when he was in first grade. The school administrators said their hands were tied. If they followed the protocol, which would be to contact the parents to come meet with them, the parents wouldn’t show up. And, if they suspend the kids, they will be left at home alone to either cause more problems, or they will get hurt while unsupervised. So, at the grade school level our teachers were already reporting that their hands are tied with this one particular demographic in the school. So what did we do? Taught our kid to fight back. And that did get the kids to lay off of him, fortunately.

  • Without a change in culture and parenting, this is all for naught. Money and fancy programs will never solve this problem alone.

  • So this is the brilliant idea of the “Chief of Equity? Nobody else in the school system could have thought of this? Really now? How about fire the Chief of Equity (possibly just a token diversity hire) and use her bloated salary to benefit the kids with some useful vocational education taught by people who actually know a trade? Perhaps that would be more “equitable.”

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