Saturday, July 21, 2018

Elementary school suspensions soar, prompting district to add behavioral consultants

Photo by Zack Dion
The district is adding behavior intervention consultants to deal with disruptive behavior in elementary schools.

By Zack Dion

In response to more than 400 suspensions of students in fifth grade or below last year, the board of education voted June 27 to hire three additional behavior intervention consultants to work in Oshkosh’s elementary schools.

During the 2017-2018 school year, local elementary schools had 4,295 major behavior violations (including fighting, classroom disruption and threats) and 431 out-of-school suspensions, according to statistics from the Oshkosh Area School District.

Currently, the district has two behavior intervention consultants who work among the 14 elementary schools in the district to develop age appropriate behavioral and social skills for students.

"Every school needs a behavior interventionist in it now,” Mary Diedrich, a behavior intervention consultant, said. “Because we’re seeing so much behavior that, to be frank, if you don’t have a behavior management plan, you can no longer teach. All you’re doing then is managing behaviors.”

“Going back about 10 years or so, we’ve seen an increase in people living in poverty in our community,” said Matthew Kaemmerer, the district’s director of pupil services. “And I think that’s a big part of it…. We know that people living in poverty have a lot of stressors or a lot of things going on in their lives that can cause trauma for students.”

A decade ago Oshkosh had fewer than 100 elementary school suspensions on an annual basis, state statistics show.

In a typical week of work, Diedrich visits each of Oshkosh’s 14 elementary schools three to four times to intervene with students’ behaviors. One way behavior intervention consultants improve the behaviors of students is by meeting in care teams, with other experts, the teacher of the classroom and the student having behavioral issues, to observe the student’s behavior and try to address their issues.

The Oshkosh Area School District has put out three job listings for behavior intervention consultants, looking for candidates with experience in elementary teaching, working with special education and at-risk students, and addressing students’ behaviors.

The three additional behavior intervention consultants will allow the consultants to be assigned “pods” of two or three of the district’s elementary schools, according to the skills of each consultant. 

“Students are so different compared to what they were when I first started teaching," Diedrich said. "You know, you could really support children and you could teach—you can’t do that anymore.”

She added: “If you don’t have really good behavioral management skills, these kids are going to eat you up. If you’re not a good relationship maker and they don’t feel that you’re vested in them, they’re going to eat you up.”

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