Lenoir County Schools decreases suspensions, improves test scores

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Some schools in Lenoir County are sending fewer children home for bad behavior.

Instead, the district is spending more time counseling, and the impact is in the numbers

Out-of-school suspensions have dropped dramatically at several schools.

The Board of Education called on schools several years ago to decrease the amount of out of school suspensions.

Tuesday, 9 On Your Side spoke with some principals and teachers in the area about the impact it is having.

“We have learned to pick out battles and not sweat the small stuff.”

South Lenoir High School principal Steve Saint-Amand began picking his battles with students in 2013.

“A lot of infractions that I would have sent someone home for five, six, seven, eight, nine years ago, now it is an in-school suspension and we talk it out,” Saint-Amand said.

Instead of sending students home for bad behavior, they are making students stay in school.

Students talk out their issues with a principal, teacher or counselor on a daily basis.

“It is very important to get to know the kids. Some of our kids, unfortunately, we don’t know where they go home at nighttime,” Saint-Amand said. “A lot of kids don’t have the best family situation to go to. They have got to have someone who will love them. They are here eight hours a day. We are the closest thing to family some of these people have. We have a lot of people who the sole purpose of what they do may be to draw attention to themselves. They are asking for help and asking for a response. We can sit there and say, Johnny, Suzy, you are going to the house, but that is not solving the problem.”

Since taking this approach, out-of-school suspensions have decreased dramatically.

“In 2013-14, we suspended almost 300 students,” Saint-Amand said. “Last year, we only suspended 69. This year as of mid-March, we have only suspended 30.”

He said as a direct result, their test scores are improving drastically, advancing the once low C-rated school to a solid B.

“Just in the last three years, our points have gone up 15 or 16 on the state report card,” Saint-Amand said.

Math teacher, Hope Woolard, is also noticing a difference.

In the 2013-2014 school year, SLHS was 30 percent proficient on their Math I end of course exams.

That means that 30 percent of the students did well enough on the state tests for the state to consider it a quality score.

In 2017-2018, that number improved to 55.

“We have made considerable gains in our math test scores,” Woolard said. “I think a significant amount of that is due to the fact that we are keeping so many students in the classroom. We have a lot of technology in the classroom we are using that many students don’t have at home, so they need to be here.”

Other schools in the district are following the same model.

Northwest Elementary improved their school grade from a D to a C.

“We actually had last year a total of 68 suspensions for the whole year and as of last month we are at 16,” principal Heather Walston said. “It works out better if we can find out what the problem is, address the problem, and get them back in class.” 

Saint-Amand said it is important educators think outside the box to keep students inside the classroom.

“It is all about building trust and that relationship and those who do it better are more successful in the end.”

There are still some zero tolerance offenses that will result in automatic suspension such as drugs or bringing weapons to school.

Schools are also doing what they call ‘reverse suspensions,’ where they invite the parent to come to spend a day at school with their child to understand issues they may be having.

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