This was one of those rare times when the principal calls a few students to the office for a good reason – a mighty good reason.
Rothschild Leadership Academy principal Michael Forte announced Tuesday the names of four students whose names were drawn to receive a free pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers, courtesy of the David Rothschild Company, one of the southeast Columbus middle school’s Partners in Education.
The winning students are sixth-grader Elijah Sparks, seventh-grader Jametrius Johnson and eighth-graders Nigel Grate and Kapree Robinson. They are among the 444 out of RLA’s 514 students who were eligible for the prizes because they weren’t sent to the principal’s office for any discipline problem in January and February.
“It feels great,” Nigel said.
He credits the school’s second-year discipline program, called PBIS, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports.
PBIS was introduced as a discipline framework for student behavior in the 1997 reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, based on University of Oregon studies in the 1980s. As of 2015, according to Oregon researcher Rob Horner, approximately 20 percent of the nation’s schools have implemented PBIS.
RLA is among the 28 schools out of 53 in the Muscogee County School District that have implemented PBIS at some level.
PBIS, according to its website, isn’t a “packaged curriculum, scripted intervention or manualized strategy.” Instead, it is a “prevention-oriented way for school personnel to:
▪ Organize evidence-based practices.
▪ Improve their implementation of those practices.
▪ Maximize academic and social behavior outcomes for students.”
In other words, PBIS schools repeatedly teach behavior expectations, reward positive results and track discipline data to strengthen weaknesses.
At RLA. Nigel said, PBIS has “changed the school.” And the principal has the numbers to show that transformation.
In its first year with PBIS, the percentage of Rothschild’s students with one or more out-of-school suspension was cut from 26.2 percent in 2014-15 to 10.7 percent in 2015-16, according to the data Forte provided. That includes the decreases in OSS for black students from 27.2 percent to 11.3 percent and for special-education students from 29.6 percent to 11.5 percent.
RLA also has significantly decreased its overall office discipline referrals, from 1,337 in 2014-15 to 1,158 in 2015-16, and is on pace to cut that rate approximately in half this school year, with 284 through November.
The next reward for RLA students who aren’t referred to the office for discipline problems will be admittance into the school’s talent show, Forte said. Other incentives this year have been ice cream, soda, popcorn and those spicy corn chips called Takis. Students are given “Falcon Feathers,” which are play-money dollar bills, when a staff member sees them behaving properly or doing good deeds. They can use the Falcon Feathers to buy items in the school’s store.
But they won’t find any for sale Nike Air Jordans there. For that special purchase, Forte will take the four well-behaved and lucky students to a local shoe store. And he will take four students instead of the originally planned three (one for each grade level) because of spur-of-the-moment generosity.
While finishing the announcement of the first three winners, Forte told the students and staff, “I believe once this hits the newspaper, we’re going to have some individuals in this community call and want to know what they can do to help out. So, keep in mind, if we do receive some extra money, then we will have another drawing. … I think that’s going to happen.”
It did – immediately and in a big way.
As soon as Forte put down the intercom’s receiver, a woman who was in the office to check out her grandson told the principal she would pay for a fourth pair of Nike Air Jordans, which can cost more than $150. She declined to have her name published, but she explained why she felt compelled to donate to this cause.
“Encourage children and show them that somebody cares,” she said.
To critics who might say these behavior incentives are gimmicks that don’t belong in schools, Forte acknowledged it might look like bribery, but he noted that adults are motivated by incentives in their jobs.
“You don’t work for nothing,” he said. “So we’re trying to instill in them a discipline to be productive citizens. They have to act a certain way to attain success.”
Forte added, “We’ve tried everything else. We’ve done it the punitive way. It wasn’t working, so why not try something else? Why not give kids something they want? The data speaks for itself.”
He thanked the David Rothschild Company “for their undivided, endless support of what we’re doing here at Rothschild Leadership Academy.”