Fewer students were suspended from Howard County public schools last year, officials report.
All but one county school district saw a drop in out-of-school suspensions, according to the annual performance reports that corporations release annually.
Northwestern High School Principal Al Remaly attributes that to a new way of thinking.
“There’s been a mind shift in the past four or five years,” he said. “Now, we think, ‘Let’s do everything we can for every student, so they can succeed’ as opposed to, ‘Let’s only work with the ones who want to be here.’”
That focus on some of the at-risk kids who otherwise may fall through the cracks is paying off, he said.
The number of students receiving out-of-school suspensions dropped by 19 percent at Northwestern in the 2010-11 school year, according to reports.
Only 67 students — 4.1 percent of the school population — were suspended last year. That number was 83, or 5.2 percent, the year before.
But some of it is out of the school’s control, he said.
“In a lot of ways, the number of suspensions is not something that can be predicted,” Remaly said.
Eastern High School Principal Keith Richie said his school started its Comet Cash incentive program a few years ago to promote better behavior. Teachers give play money out to students who improve their behavior or test scores or do something nice for someone else, Richie said. The Comet Cash can then be redeemed for prizes.
“It’s been a very good incentive program,” he said. “We’ve seen our number of discipline issues go down.”
That may be true across the board, but the school saw a spike last year in students receiving out-of-school suspensions.
Eastern High School saw a 103.8 percent increase. Last year, 53 kids received out-of-school suspensions. The year before, that number was 26.
Richie attributed that to some unexpected fights.
He said he’s been at the school for eight years now, and for seven of those, there wasn’t a single fight.
“A year ago we had a lot, at least a handful,” Richie said.
Taylor High School Principal Eric Hartman can’t remember the last time there was a fight at his school.
But still, there are always students who make poor decisions and end up with out-of-school suspensions or occasionally expulsions, he said.
He said Taylor has had students using pills or selling pills at school before, and that can quickly inflate Taylor’s annual numbers.
“In a school our size, if five knucklehead freshmen decide they want to be big and bad and peddle pills they got from their stepmother’s medicine cabinet, that spikes your numbers,” he said.
A change in school policy prompts most of the school’s out-of-school suspensions, though.
“We made a decision several years ago that we weren’t going to brush profanity under the rug,” Hartman said. “That kind of dialogue was affecting the climate of our school. It carries a stiff penalty now.”
Students caught cursing in school are suspended for a minimum two days.
“But we don’t have a rampant problem with out-of-school suspensions,” the principal said.
The percentages corporation-wide are higher than any other county district, though.
Last year, 117 Taylor School Corp. students received out-of-school suspensions, according to the annual performance report. That amounts to 8.2 percent of the student population.
Out-of-school suspensions at Kokomo-Center Schools dropped by 43 percent last year. Less than 5 percent of the student population received such suspensions.
According to the report, the only district school that saw a significant increase was Central Middle School. Officials say the numbers aren’t as high as the report states, though.
The report indicates that 102 of the school’s 638 students received an out-of-school suspension last year, as opposed to 16 the year before.
There were really only 102 total incidents, according to Dave Barnes, director of communications for the district. Principal Mike Sargent reported it incorrectly, he said.
“I do know that Mr. Sargent talked to the state officials this week after reviewing what the report was asking for,” Barnes said in an email. “He did not understand the directions clearly, and he reported the number of incidents this past cycle. That will be corrected in the future.”
Still, though, the school implemented a behavior support program this semester to curb the problem. And the International School there will help, too, Sargent said.
“Our International School culture is truly reforming our school environment,” Sargent said. “That culture, along with the new positive behavior program being implemented at the middle schools, definitely will make a difference.”
He expects an 80 percent to 90 percent decrease in the number of suspensions this year.
Western School Corp. had the lowest suspension rate in the county, according to the annual performance reports. Just more than 3 percent of its student population received an out-of-school suspension last year.
Western Middle School Principal Julie Pownall said that number has been going down for years, and it’s likely a trend that will continue.
The schools teach students about kindness, compassion, virtues and moral character, Pownall said.
The middle school also launched an anti-bullying campaign that teaches kids to report bullies to an adult before a situation gets out of hand. Pownall said that’s been a significant help at the school.
“We’re having kids be advocates for each other,” she said.
• Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, may be reached at 765-454-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org