Gwinnett to focus on classroom behavior to start the school year

The J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Gwinnett County's school district headquarters. Gwinnett teachers will spend more time at the start of the school year working with students on conflict resolution. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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The J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Gwinnett County's school district headquarters. Gwinnett teachers will spend more time at the start of the school year working with students on conflict resolution. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The district has been discussing a new approach to discipline

The first few days of classes in Gwinnett won’t just cover core subjects and syllabuses for the upcoming school year.

Georgia’s largest school district is starting a new effort that will focus on reducing disruptive classroom behavior.

The first three days of classes will teach “expectations of behavior and discipline in our schools. We’ll be teaching students conflict resolution,” said Jorge Gomez, the district’s executive director of administration and policy, during a recent school board meeting. “Day One should feel and look different than Day One in the past.”

Gomez didn’t share specifics of what will happen in classrooms, but he said it would be the first change implemented as the district adjusts its approach to behavior and discipline throughout the school year.

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There also wasn’t much discussion of issues with student conduct, but district leaders have heard from teachers and others about ways it has changed because of the pandemic and about a year spent learning from home in a virtual classroom.

At May’s school board meeting, the district’s former teacher of the year Lee Allen laid out issues he saw that contributed to him resigning.

“Returning from concurrent learning, we have an alarming number of students that simply do not care about learning and refuse to even try,” Allen said. “We are also experiencing incredible disrespect and refusal to follow basic school rules. There is little to no accountability or expectations for grades or behavior placed on students or parents.”

The school board has discussed behavior and discipline policies over the last several months. Gomez said those discussions will continue as staff works on new policies.

Elements of the new policies include emphasis on social emotional learning, a focus on restorative practices to build up relationships and having specific interventions for behavior issues.

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The board, in a 3-2 vote, approved a new Student Behavior Code of Conduct in June that contained a few changes, such as adding instructions for reporting discrimination and a more detailed definition of criminal trespassing.

Board Chair Tarece Johnson and member Everton Blair voted against it because they wanted to approve the code of conduct alongside the discipline policies that are in the works.

“I want to challenge us to think about how we create urgency around this and really strategically invest in this,” Johnson said.

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