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GreyWolf posted a topic in Writing DeskGreyWolf’s story #18. This is my most recent, written about a month ago, and marks the end of my weekly postings. Parental Involvement I worked for a number of years as the office administrator and general assistant in a school in a small mid-western town. It was a quaint “right size” town populated by a lot of nice folks. The school was K through 12, and had a total of about 350 students. Teachers taught multiple subjects and grade levels, managing to give a good education with tight resources. Much of the credit certainly has to go to the principal, Mrs. Paulson. She was a great combination of compassion and passion for the students, combined with just enough toughness to keep a pretty diverse community together. She certainly made it a good place to work, and probably kept me working there when I really didn’t have to. My last year there, before my husband retired and we moved out to the West coast was rather interesting. The schools there had always allowed corporal punishment. It was only administered to the 6th grade and above, and only by the principal. This was the early 1990s, and the practice was still widespread, particularly in the south and the mid-west. Usually 6th and sometimes 7th graders were given just a warning with a lecture (along with hearing what the older ones got through the door) but by the 8th grade there were always consequences. The process was straight forward, and I was in the loop, being responsible for keeping the records. There were always records. Teachers would “write up” students for rule violations on little pink slips and drop them with me at the office. Typically they had the student’s name, the date and time, and the complaint, signed by the teacher. I put these in a specific file, and every Friday morning Mrs. Paulson would collect the new slips and spend a few minutes at her desk going through them. She would then write a simple list of students, and I would make copies of the list and distribute them to the teachers at lunch. After lunch the teachers would inform any students on the list that they were to report to the office after school. Once the group was collected, Mrs. Paulson would go down the list, calling them into her office one at a time. Generally there was about a minute of conversation, followed most often by swats. I never saw the paddle, but one student described it as a pretty simple wooden one, probably typical of that era. After a few moments of silence, I would hear the thwacks, always in groups of three. Generally minor offenses (persistent tardy or other disruptive behavior) would result in one set. More serious ones, such as smoking, would result in two sets, and the maximum of three sets seemed to be primarily for fighting. Sometimes there was an offer of suspension in place of paddling, but either that was seldom offered or seldom accepted. If that happened it was one day for each set. After the last swat, there was a pause for the paperwork to be signed. The door would open, the student followed by the principal holding her list to call on the next lucky winner. Some weeks there were only one or two, but a couple of times there were as many as 10. I could not help but notice that the order was always from the lowest offense to the most egregious. When the last student had left, Mrs. Paulson would bring me the finished paperwork in a file, and I would date it and file it in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. I will confess to having once or twice pulled the most recent file from the drawer and looked through it. There was a singe page report for each student, listing the violation and some notes on the discussion she had with each one, then the punishment, followed by signatures by her and the student. One week however became notorious. A large number of freshmen and sophomores had gotten into a food fight at lunch, and after the teachers got it settled down and sorted out with Mrs Paulson, there were 18 pink slips written out. That Friday was a bit different. There were 20 students waiting, and after taking care of the two unrelated to the great food fight, Mrs Paulson decided to give the lecture to the entire group in the outer office. When done, she then went down the list calling each name and either a six or a nine after it. When done she looked up and said, OK all the sixes in my office now, and the nines will be next. It only took about 20 seconds per student, and when lead back out there was some pretty good sobbing. She then announced to the remaining miscreants “alright, my arm is warmed up now, let’s get in there!” The subsequent paddlings brought at least a couple to tears. As I mentioned earlier, this all changed for my last year there. Over the summer there had been move in the state legislature to eliminate corporal punishment of students, and after much debate it had passed. When the fall term started, a note was sent home with all students noting the change, and stating that suspension would be the only option in the future. Of course this was given a very favorable review by the students. The system did not really change at all, other than of course the lack of loud popping sounds coming from behind the closed door. One day in late October Mrs. Paulson called me into here office, where she had the contents of the weekly folders spread out on her desk. Looking up she pointed to a summary sheet she had been working on, and said something like “This is not good. The number of disciplinary problems has definitely increased this year, and the number of resulting suspensions is not good for anyone. The teachers are complaining that decorum and behavior is poorer, and parents are complaining about the disruptions that suspended students cause at home.” We chatted a bit further — I think she just wanted someone to bounce ideas off of — but could not come up with any way to improve the situation. Things continued to deteriorate through November. Mrs. Paulson had to reduce the frequency and length of suspensions for the obvious practical reasons, and the response of the student body seemed to be to just pile it on. As we headed out for the Thanksgiving holiday she looked like she could really use a break. As we both left the building, she looked at me and said “I think I have an idea.” Without sharing more, she wished me a happy holiday and headed for her car. After a nice Thanksgiving break, the moment I walked back into the office Mrs. Paulson summoned me to her desk where she announced, “I’m going to make an adjustment to our new disciplinary policy. I’m hoping will help bring the rate down, as well as increase parental engagement.” Handing me a sheet of paper she continued “Kindly proof read this for me, and come back back with any changes it needs. Then print up enough for all the students, and we’ll get them distributed during lunch.” Returning to my desk I sat and read the note, which was to be taken home for parents signature and returned by the end of the week: Dear Parents, As you all know the policy around corporal in our schools has changed this year. With its removal as an option in maintaining appropriate behavior the school staff has noted a significant uptick in both the frequency and severity of disruptions. The only remaining option, suspension, is self limiting, and has probably a greater impact on those surrounding a student than on the student. With that as background, this note is to announce that I am instituting a new policy which is compliant with the new state law, but I believe will not only improve the disciplinary record of the student body but also increase parental involvement in our school. With this as pretext, I'm asking for everyone’s help and support in making this change. As with our current policy, disciplinary lists will be compiled at the end of every week. However, now notice will be sent home with each effected student, and parents will be required to attend a review with their student and the principal the following Monday starting at 5:00pm. The effected students will remain at school until then in the central office. The discipline process itself will return to the practice of past years, with the exception that the customary paddling will be of the parent rather than the student. Refusal to participate in this process will lead to a doubling of the student’s suspension, something that we sincerely hope we do not have to do. Please sign to acknowledge your understanding of this change and return with your student by the end of the week. Sincerely, Mrs. Paulson, Principal Lakeside School After a careful reading I did take it back into her office to point out a couple of simple typos. As she went about correcting them on her then new PC, she asked if I had any additional thoughts. While the updated version printed, I replied that I could not think of any. This was going to be interesting. And interesting it was. The first week brought only a couple of parents in, and resulted in only suspensions, along with some raised voices when parents were involved. The following week it was clear that while there were fewer students on the list, more had parents coming in. That week was the first return of the paddle, with one father accepting 6 swats for his daughter, who was guilty of smoking out in the school yard. The look on her face as she left accompanied by her grim faced father spoke volumes of what was likely to happen at home. After that rocky start the parental participation steadily increased. The fact that it was a group of parents and students sitting waiting their turn made it simultaneously more effective and ironically more acceptable. Over time (and after some long suspensions) parents began to get the message, and usually were there. In addition the result was more often the paddle, resulting in even fewer suspensions. I’m more than sure that what these students then got at home exceeded the school standard of prior years, as the recidivism rate began to drop. In fact by the spring was well below levels from prior years. I never heard any discussions of these sessions outside of school, but I’m sure that knowledge of who was involved did get around. I suspect it became an odd mix of shame for being in that position and pride for the parent in doing the right thing. I remember one case in particular, a senior named Matt. He was a big fellow who played on the football team and had gotten into a fight with one of the other players. Normally he was a great kid and stayed out of trouble. His mother came in, dressed in a pretty spring dress. She was a slight thing, and I’ll bet that paddle really hurt after nine swats. I still remember the look on their faces as they emerged from the office — her grim with determination, followed by him looking like a puppy dog with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I'm not sure whether this process was continued, but while I was there it really worked. It put responsibility where it belonged, on the students. It brought the parents into the process and ensured that they really had some “skin in the game.”