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Student infractions at Rochester middle schools dwarf their high school counterparts

In spite of anecdotal reports, the number of district-wide infractions was not higher than previous years.

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Jacque Peterson, RPS chief of schools, speaks at a school board study session on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, about strategies to address student behavior.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Overall, the number of student infractions at Rochester's middle schools last year was more than four times the number at the high schools.

The Rochester School Board reviewed the data during a study session Tuesday. It was included in a report that listed the number of student infractions at all schools throughout the district, including the elementary buildings.

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Superintendent Kent Pekel spoke about the issue in the context of helping students academically and making sure they feel engaged in their environments.

"They're linked. When kids are academically engaged and thriving, these behavioral issues shift," Pekel said. "We need to know this isn't the only lens through which we see any of these kids — even the kids who are in that small group that are getting caught up in the disciplinary process a lot."

In spite of anecdotal reports, the number of district-wide infractions was not higher than a normal year. During 2021-22, there were 3,842 infractions. Although dramatically higher than the year of distance learning, it was lower than 2018-19 which recorded 4,087.

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Together, the four middle schools of Friedell, Kellogg, Willow Creek and John Adams recorded a total of 2,509 infractions.

Meanwhile, the three high schools of John Marshall, Mayo and Century recorded a total of 578. Among the three mainstream high schools, Century recorded the most infractions at 210. John Marshall was second with 201, and Mayo had the lowest of 167.

By comparison, both John Adams and Willow Creek middle schools each had more than four times the number of infractions as their older counterparts. Willow Creek had 968, and John Adams recorded 1,041.

Kellogg Middle School was an outlier among the middle schools, recording only 489 infractions — roughly half the number of the other two. Friedell Middle School, a district-wide option school, had a mere 11 infractions.

Peter Wruck, director of research, assessment and evaluation, echoed Pekel's remarks about addressing academics, school culture and discipline through the same effort.

"A high sense of belonging is associated with a 75% reduction in the odds of a disciplinary infraction," Wruck said, describing research from grades 3-5. "It also reinforces the importance of everything that we do that's not straight academics."

Jacque Peterson, RPS chief of schools, spoke about some of the strategies they are implementing to address the issue of student behavior. She gave examples of strengthening relationships between students and staff, establishing tighter connections with parents and caregivers, and even providing lessons on social skills.

She also said helping students academically will help with the behavior issues.

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"We've talked about systems of support for students," Peterson said. "We have students who are going to class but not grasping the concept ... students are saying 'I get to class and a couple minutes in, I'm already lost. Why would I stay and try to attend when I don't know what's going on?'"

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Peter Wruck, director of research, assessment, and evaluation for Rochester Public Schools, speaks on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, during a study session of the school board.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin

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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