This week’s column is about school climate and culture, student behavior and district process and protocols.
Within our “brick and mortar” buildings, we have over 2,500 students enrolled in our school district. This is larger than the vast majority of cities in Minnesota and, when adding in the staff, makes the population of the school district about the size of the city of Staples. With a population that size, how do we maintain an excellent learning environment?
It starts with establishing climate and culture. Each building starts fresh each year by building relationships with our students and communicating expectations. These expectations include how students should conduct themselves in the classroom, hallways, cafeteria and recess. They include how we should treat each other. Students do best when expectations are consistent. Although there may be a few nuances here and there, generally speaking each classroom models similar expectations. All school employees play a role in being strong, positive role models for students and making sure that students are following the expectations. As you might expect, there are also many reminders to students that take place throughout the school year.
The school discipline policy is #506 and provides guidelines for student conduct. It contains a fairly lengthy list of “thou shalt nots.” The policy provides the typical consequences for various rule violations as well. Consequences can vary from a verbal warning to lunch detention, after school detention, in school suspension, out of school suspension or, in an extreme case, expulsion. While the policy provides excellent guidelines, from time to time circumstances in a case may warrant some latitude. Like the majority of schools in Minnesota, the Fergus Falls Public School District subscribes to a policy service offered through the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA). They revise policies annually in accordance with changing state statutes and the latest legal reviews to make sure school policies remain in compliance.
Even with a strong foundation in place, kids are still kids. They can be impulsive, they don’t always treat each other well, they don’t always follow the rules, and they make mistakes.
What happens when the district receives a report of student misconduct? The administration begins an investigation. This involves determining who may have beneficial information. When witnesses are available, their statements are very valuable in determining exactly what happened. Video cameras can also play an important role. The district invested in updating its video surveillance system at KSS and Roosevelt over the summer. The district also works with two school resource officers (SROs). The school district has a contract with the Fergus Falls Police Department. Officer Matt Cederberg and Officer Dustin Kitzman are assigned to the school district during the school year to provide assistance as needed. They assist with investigations, student misconduct, parking lot and traffic issues and general security of our schools.
When a meeting is held with a student due to a rule violation several outcomes are possible. Things could be as simple as reviewing the situation with the child, figuring out what factors led to a poor decision and coaching the student towards a better response to a similar situation in the future. It may end there or other consequences that align to our policies and handbook may be administered. Throughout this process, it is our intention to maintain good communication with our families.
Even with the systems in place, do we know about all of the shenanigans that take place during a normal school year? No - some misbehavior we never hear about and some reports we aren’t able to solve. Did the school find out about everything that went on when you were in school? Some of those stories are recounted at class reunions for decades. I have even heard a story or two from Hall of Fame inductees. It’s all part of growing up.
All in all, we are very fortunate to have well-behaved students! When issues do arise, we address them in a timely manner and work with the child and family to help ensure that better decisions are made in the future. The district strives to provide a safe, healthy environment for all students with the ultimate goal of producing positive, contributing members of society.