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Rochester Public Schools lays out plan to address student behavior

“People are really passionately committed to addressing these issues,” Superintendent Kent Pekel said. "Every student feeling safe, and that they belong in our schools, is a foundation to learning.”

Rochester School Board
Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel speaks during a school board meeting on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, at the Edison Building in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Students may have a different experience this coming year as administrators lay the groundwork for a new culture in Rochester’s secondary schools.

Superintendent Kent Pekel on Tuesday gave the School Board an overview of the plan to address issues of misbehavior that plagued the district this past year as students returned from distance learning.

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"That’s why you have to deal with things correctly," said Aurora Ogbonna, an 11-year-old 4-H student. "Everything has such a bigger impact on the environment than people realize.”

“We’ve had some challenges over the course of the past school year with disruptive behaviors on the part of some of our students,” Pekel said. “Students are constantly reading the environment in terms of how connected they feel, how much they feel that they belong, and also which behaviors are acceptable. And so we knew that we needed to begin next year with strategies in place.”

Created with representatives from across the district's schools, Pekel presented the school board with a memo detailing the various strategies they'll undertake.

The district has released both district-wide strategies, as well as those specific to individual schools. Among the 26 suggestions for district-wide initiatives, there were five highlighted as priorities: Student-staff relationships, the use of cell phones, restorative practices, discipline responses and extracurricular activities.

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Although some of the district's reactive methods to misbehavior, such as suspension, are still in place, Pekel said they need to be evaluated to promote "reflection and behavior change," according to the memo.

The plan also calls for restorative practices. While that term can take various forms, it essentially is a way to incorporate the offending student back into the school community.

“There’s a very intentional process to restore the sense of community and restore the sense of belonging,” Pekel said.

The use of cell phones is also a major hurdle the district is trying to grapple with. Part of the memo says the district should create a policy “that restricts or eliminates student use of cellphones in school.”

Pekel, however, admitted the issue of addressing cell phone use is very complex.

The plan also calls for ways to get ahead of the behavior before it even happens. The district's leaders plan to do that by increasing a sense of belonging for students at their various schools.

One way to do that is by increasing participation in extracurricular activities. During Tuesday's meeting, Pekel said there are not as many “enrichment opportunities” for middle school students in the district as there are for those at the high schools. Nonetheless, the plan calls for connecting students to those extracurricular activities.

“Those, for many kids, can be powerful connectors to school,” Pekel said. “They also can be powerful ways to incentivize good behavior and effort in school.”

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What happened: Rochester Public Schools Superintendent presented a list of initiatives to the School Board, detailing initiatives to address student misbehavior.

Why does this matter: Disruptive student behavior was a major issue for the school district this past year as students readjusted to learning in their schools rather than at their homes as they did during the pandemic.

What's next: The district's administration will develop action plans to implement the various initiatives.


The plan also puts emphasis on the importance of relationships with authority figures. Specifically, one of the goals in the memo is to “Launch activities to connect all students to at least one caring adult in the school and make clear to teachers that it is acceptable to take time for building relationships even if it reduces time spent on academic content.”

The topic of relationship-building is something Pekel has emphasized ever since he first came to the district as an interim superintendent. It's also the topic of a TED Talk he gave before his time in Rochester.

“People are really passionately committed to addressing these issues,” Pekel said. "Every student feeling safe, and that they belong in our schools, is a foundation to learning.”

Summit Memo by inforumdocs on Scribd

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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