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Rochester Public Schools lays out 7 strategies to help curb student disruption, violence

"This was really in response to significant disruptive behaviors and physical behaviors that we were seeing in our secondary schools following the return (to school) after students had experienced a long time in distance learning,” said Jacque Peterson, director of elementary and secondary education.

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Rochester Public Schools
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Rochester Public Schools has released additional information about its plan to curb the violence and disruptions that have been happening in the district’s secondary schools.

Jacque Peterson, RPS director of elementary and secondary education, gave a presentation to the Rochester School Board about strategies the district is undertaking to help ameliorate the situation.

“This was really in response to significant disruptive behaviors and physical behaviors that we were seeing in our secondary schools following the return (to school) after students had experienced a long time in distance learning,” Peterson said. “(It's) seven really great strategies that are going to make a huge difference in our buildings.”

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The district's administration has confirmed an increase in student violence this school year, including a fight that resulted in an ambulance responding to a medical situation at John Adams Middle School.

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The first strategy is one Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel spoke about at a previous meeting: The Perspectives Project. The project will include talking to focus groups of students, as well as staff members. The district will be working with research firm on the project.

Peterson said the second strategy is to increase the number of equity specialists in the district. According to Pekel, equity specialists are professionals who work with students directly, but also help get students connected to the services they need.

“The role of those specialists is not just direct work with kids,” Pekel said. “It is also building the capacity of staff and naming issues in schools that may be promoting these behaviors.”

Peterson cited the impact equity specialist Rodney Sharp has had. Sharp recently described the role in more practical terms during an interview with the publication Rochester In Color.

“The way I like to explain it is, I like to be a bridge between home and school,” Sharp told Rochester in Color. “And that's what I really try to get across to students. That I'm here for you. If it's finding a way to get you mental help, I might not be the expert for it, but I can lead you to someone who is. If you need food, we have someone who can lead you to that. ... I try to be the bridge to give you those type of things.”

The third strategy is “advanced case planning.” Peterson described it as “taking a look at individual needs of students.”

“This is really fine-tuning the (response to the) needs of our students,” Peterson said.

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The fourth strategy is discipline, another topic Pekel spoke about at an earlier meeting. Peterson reiterated Pekel’s comments, saying it is being used sparingly, but that it is still an option.

“Even though it’s there in the tool box, it’s not being used very widely, but it’s helpful for staff to know that it’s there,” Peterson said about suspending students.

The fifth strategy includes involving a broader range of staff to help change the situation.

“It’s really important that staff are involved because if we’re having a discipline issue, it’s not an administrative issue. It’s everybody’s issue,” Peterson said.

The sixth strategy is the implementation of a software program. According to Peterson, the software provides a good platform on which to communicate about safety and discipline issues. She also said it provides a reward system for students. The software also allows staff to look at trends among student disruption and discipline.

"If you have the software and all you do is input the data, that tells a story, but it doesn't tell a personal story," she said. "So it's really important that coupled with that you have a team that looks at that data."

The final strategy is restorative practices. She said Director of Equity and Inclusion Will Ruffin II is working on establishing training for staff on the subject.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, restorative practices can take a number of different forms.

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"Restorative practices range from the informal to the formal," an article from the institute says. "They are designed to build community and repair relationships while supporting reflection, communication and problem-solving skills for staff and students."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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