The Turlock Unified School District is one of 11 Central Valley school districts to join a new, statewide organization dedicated to reducing high suspension rates.
“We applied for a grant with the California Endowment, and part of that grant was joining the network,” said Gil Ogden, Director of Student Services at TUSD. “The grant was written to help train the teachers and staff to do intervention reports, train each school’s staff, and create positive plans for students to be successful.”
The Central Valley Leadership and Learning Network encourages school districts to not rely solely on punishment after an incident occurs, but to focus on prevention-based approaches, such as teaching positive behavior and acknowledging underlying causes of poor behavior. The network and many experts believe that both suspension and expulsion should be held as the last resort, for only the most serious offenses.
“Being part of the network will help provide training to teach students to be respectful, responsible and safe,” said Ogden. “It teaches specific behaviors throughout the school sites to try to keep students in school and engaged in learning.”
As part of the network, TUSD will work on their own to train within the district, then meet with the consortium of network schools to further their training and share ideas.
From 2009 to 2012, there have been over 2 million suspensions in California school districts, the majority of which were unrelated to violence or drugs. And while suspension rates continue to increase dramatically, experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association say that suspension is not an effective strategy in reducing school violence or improving academic achievement.
According to the California Endowment, a recent study showed that even a single suspension received in the ninth grade will double a student’s risk of dropping out of high school completely.
“Our suspension rates are already low in Turlock, but we want them even lower to keep kids in school,” said Ogden. “We want to give them the skills they can use to be successful. The training will actually teach the students what positive behavior is, and help provide reinforcement when they do it well.”
Last week, the California Endowment awarded $779,000 to help add members to the Leadership and Learning Network. Each new member district receives a $10,000 grant from the Endowment to cover any costs associated with joining the network, such as travel expenses. There are no costs for any district to join the network.
Membership in the group can be profitable. A total of $1.1 million in grants was awarded to nine previous network members in April 2013.
The California Endowment grant will also send $504,000 to California State University, Fresno, to coordinate the network, and $175,000 to the University of California, Merced, to facilitate the network.
In addition to TUSD, the Leadership and Learning Network added Central Unified, Coalinga-Huron Unified, Dinuba Unified, Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified, Kings Canyon Unified, Kingsburg Elementary and High School Districts, Parlier Unified, Sylvan Unified, and Visalia Unified will join the network.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Ogden. “We have a lot of the schools on board.”
To learn more about the California Endowment, visit www.calendow.org.