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At vocational schools, suspensions are down

While the number of students who have been suspended from public schools over the past few years has remained relatively constant, some local districts - particularly vocational technical schools - have bucked the trend and cut their rates, sometimes sharply.

Driving the change, said officials, is an effort to deal with students individually and get them involved in school, an increased emphasis on detention rather than suspension, and perhaps, in the cases of regional vocational schools, attracting more students, which allows the schools to be choosier in their admissions.

While there was no organized, concerted effort among the schools to lower suspensions, they are a relatively small, tight-knit group and are constantly exchanging ideas on different topics, one official said.

Student interest has risen in the vocational schools because the range of careers and the sophistication of the courses has changed for the better, said officials. For instance, more students want to pursue technical careers or Web design, and the schools are geared to meet that demand.

"We're trying to get the kids involved in school," said Gary Brown, superintendent at Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical School, where he has worked for 25 years. "That's a big part of it."

The school has cut the rate of suspensions from more than 23 per 100 students to about 10, within a year. The school, like some others, uses detentions on weekdays or Saturdays as an alternative to suspensions in some cases. The reasons for suspensions can range from being late too many times to being involved in a fight.

Old Colony uses a graduated system of discipline, which starts with calls to the parents and the involvement of an administrator and can lead, in rare cases, to expulsion.

Of the top 10 schools that reduced suspensions, four were regional vocational technical schools - South Shore in Hanover, Blue Hills in Canton, Old Colony in Rochester, Bristol-Plymouth in Taunton. Another regional school, Norfolk Agricultural in Walpole, also was in the top 10.

"Some of the students who previously would have been admitted are not because the voke techs are filled and can be selective," said William Cooper, superintendent of Old Rochester Regional.

Those students who get in are appreciative and know how to work hard, he said.

Data on suspensions, released this month by the state Department of Education for the 2007-2008 school year, measure the rate of students per 100 who are suspended annually. That data, for school districts, were compared with data from the 2002-2003 school year. The state shows the number of in-school and out-of-school suspensions; for this story, the two measures were combined.

In-school suspensions are often for lesser offenses; students are allowed into the building but do not attend normal activities. Students on out-of-school suspension are not allowed into the building. Suspensions vary in length, but those statistics are not tracked.

In general, the number of students suspended by the vocational schools was still relatively high compared with many other public districts. Statewide for all public school districts, the number of suspended students per 100 has hovered in the 9 percent range for the past five years.

At the vocational schools, the numbers last year were almost all higher than the state average - but had dropped considerably from previous years. For instance, South Shore cut its suspension rate from almost 36 students per 100 to less than 11, while Blue Hills cut its rate from about 28 to about 14.

Other districts have also cut down on suspensions.

For instance, Holbrook did away with in-school suspensions, in favor of lesser disciplines. At Blue Hills, students who were consistently tardy might have had to serve an in-school suspension. Now they would get a Saturday detention.

Officials at Holbrook Junior-Senior High have worked hard to reduce the number of students who are suspended. When Ed Dunn came in as principal in the 2005-2006 school year, he noticed the high number of students suspended the previous year.

"When I looked at the data, I said, wow, the suspensions are really high. Why are they suspending these kids?" said Dunn, who is now in charge of curriculum.

He eliminated in-school suspensions because he thought they did not help the students. They were replaced with Saturday detentions.

The suspension rate has plummeted from 18.7 students per 100 to 8.6.

Joseph Baeta, the school's new principal, said what's most important is to make sure there is consistent discipline from classroom to classroom.

"What we're trying to teach is a learned behavior," he said, that carries through for the six years a student is at the school.

Some officials said the students suspended the most tend to be in grades 8 through 10, although those in the later grades, while suspended less, tend to have more serious problems.

"The youngsters oftentimes are not being successful in school," said Cooper of Old Rochester. "As a result of their frustration and aversion to going to school . . . that will sometimes lead to negative behavior."

Sometimes, suspensions are down simply because the students are better behaved as a group.

"Last year was a fantastic senior class," said Tom Cavanaugh, in his 11th year as assistant principal at Blue Hills. "That probably had more to do with it than anything else. They were extremely motivated and hard-working.

"Some years you have a great group of kids and you hate to see them go, and other years you can't wait to see them go," he said, laughing.

Posted by: Puchiko
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Posted in: News by NewsBot on November 23, 2008 @ 12:00 AM

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