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Sunday, December 10, 2017 13:45

Superintendent Balderas speaks on students’ behavioral needs

Read the superintendent’s article in the Register-Guard 

This message from Superintendent Gustavo Balderas was published in the Eugene Register-Guard on Sunday, December 10, 2017.

“For these are all our children. We will all profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.” –James Baldwin 

The Eugene Register-Guard recently published several articles detailing concerns about an upsurge of behavioral issues at an elementary school in Eugene. This has brought attention to an important issue: the rising incidence and intensity of significant behavior issues, not just at one school, but in schools across our community and across the country.

As educators and community members, we must all come together to help every student succeed.

Behavioral struggles  

Public schools have a moral and legal obligation to educate every child. In Eugene School District 4J we work to provide a safe, nurturing and inclusive learning environment and an excellent education for every student who comes through our doors.

All students begin their education with learning needs, including academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs. Some kids sail through school. Others need specialized support to succeed.

Some students struggle with self-regulating their emotions and behaviors, and may act out when a situation causes frustration, disappointment or anger. These students come from all segments of our community and include general education students and students eligible for special education services.

Significant behavior issues are often related to an emotional behavioral disorder or other disability. They also may stem from underlying factors such as trauma, physical or mental health issues, economic stresses, or other family difficulties.

Students with behavioral needs are not just “undisciplined,” as some have suggested. These students may be bright, talented and personable. They don’t want to have outbursts that disrupt their classrooms and distress their friends and classmates. But they have a hard time regulating their responses when faced with a triggering situation that most other students would work through without much difficulty.

Classroom challenges 

Behavior incidents can be challenging for staff and disconcerting for other students. They can disrupt classrooms and derail a teacher’s carefully crafted lesson plans. They can at times be self harming or be harmful to another student or staff member. And they’re not abstract—these incidents involve real children, both those who have behavioral issues and the other students around them, as well as staff members.

If a student’s behaviors interfere with learning, our schools work together with parents, students and specialized professionals to understand the functions of the behavior and address the needed skills. Just like learning to read or write, students need to be taught how to manage their behaviors

Usually behavioral responses are addressed in the classroom. At other times, a student may need to leave the classroom to access supports to manage their behavior, such as a behavior intervention classroom or time with the school counselor or principal. More rarely, the best approach is to lead other students out of the room and address behaviors after the student has calmed down.

Problematic behaviors do not go unnoticed or unchecked. School staff work with students individually and address every behavioral incident that occurs. They teach skills and establish systems to help students learn to navigate the frustrations of their daily environment without behavioral responses that interfere with their own and others’ learning.

A growing concern 

Behavior issues are on the rise here in Eugene, in other school districts, and across the U.S.

It is not a new phenomenon to have students with challenging behaviors. Over time, though, we have seen more students coming to school with emotional and behavioral difficulties, and more complex, verbal and aggressive behaviors.

Students with behavioral needs may require significant support to learn to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors. At the same time, they also must have academic and social learning opportunities.

Educating every child 

Whatever their behavioral or other learning needs, every child deserves the opportunity to learn. By federal law, every child has the right to a free and appropriate public education, provided in the least restrictive educational environment, to the maximum extent appropriate for that student’s learning needs.

As much as possible, students with disabilities learn in classrooms alongside their nondisabled peers, aided by specific instruction and accommodations to allow them to access their education. We know from educational research and experience that inclusion in general education classrooms results in better outcomes for students.

That does not mean that every student is best served in the same learning environment.

Many students with behavioral needs do best when they learn primarily in the classroom with their peers, combined with some time in a specific program to address their particular learning needs. For a small number of students, the appropriate placement may be a special school, to provide the learning environment the child needs to build the necessary skills to participate with general education peers.

Each child is complex and unique. A team of the student’s parents, teachers and professional specialists works together to determine the appropriate educational placement and supports for a student with special needs.

We can do better 

Oregon schools have limited resources, but we are making improvements within the means we have.

Schools need to have a web of interventions to identify students with behavioral or academic needs and give them the support they need to succeed. In 4J we are establishing a more comprehensive system of supports for students with different levels of need.

Our educators do amazing work with our students under challenging circumstances. They implement systems to support positive behaviors among all students, and interventions for students who need more help. We are focused on expanding, strengthening and aligning these systems to best serve all students and support our educators in their work.

Every 4J school works to achieve a positive, safe and welcoming school climate for all students.

Many schools have established schoolwide positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), in which expectations for students are predictable, directly taught, consistently acknowledged, culturally responsive, restorative in nature and actively monitored.

Restorative justice practices are being explored to support individual growth and positive climates for all schools. Restorative justice shifts from solely punishing individuals for wrongdoing to holding people accountable for their actions and focusing on repairing harm and preventing its recurrence.

Social emotional learning is another area of focus. This proactive approach builds resiliency and skills that help avoid behavior issues, by helping all students learn self-awareness, social awareness, relational skills, responsible decision-making and self-management.

Even within a very tight budget, we are devoting more resources to address the increasing frequency and intensity of student behavior issues. We have established full-time counselors at every elementary school, added educational assistants to provide behavioral supports, and worked to reduce class sizes of both general education and behavior classrooms where we can. We offer staff training including trauma-informed care, de-escalation and functional behavioral assessment. Additional supports are targeted where they’re most needed; when behavior incidents rose significantly in one school this fall, we provided extensive support, added staffing, gave additional training and made other adjustments to help stabilize behaviors.

Safe schools for all 

We are committed to keeping all of our students and staff safe and able to learn, with the learning environment and educational services they need to succeed.

We strive to ensure our staff and students have the skills and resiliency to teach and learn in an inclusive learning environment with students with a variety of strengths, challenges and backgrounds.

We will not blame or shame our struggling students, their caring families or our devoted educators.

People in our community care deeply about children and public education. In Eugene School District 4J, we have more than 17,000 students who are incredible, inspiring and unique. We have active and supportive parents who care deeply about their children and their peers, and about what we are doing to help them succeed. We have devoted staff members who give their all to serve our students. We have a community that cares about teaching and learning and believes in the importance of public education.

The widespread rise in behavior concerns is not only a school issue, it’s a challenging and complex societal issue. There are no easy answers, no easy fixes, but in Eugene we have a strong foundation in our community. We value our community partnerships to continue the hard work of meeting all students’ needs—both students who struggle with behavior and their peers. We are in this work together.

Our schools should be places where every student, every staff member, and every family feels safe, welcome and successful.

These are all our children.

–Gustavo Balderas, Superintendent
Eugene School District 4J

 

Read the superintendent’s article published in the Register-Guard 

 

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