By Talia Richman
Suspensions in Baltimore city schools dipped last year as the district continued to reform its disciplinary practices to reduce the rate of students getting kicked out of school.
There were about 6,800 suspensions and expulsions last school year, down from nearly 8,500 the year before. The nearly 20-percent drop comes as city schools CEO Sonja Santelises has put renewed emphasis on positive behavioral interventions.
“Moving forward as a system, we need to focus on and do a better job of identifying some of the social emotional needs of our kids,” she said during an editorial meeting with The Baltimore Sun this summer.
The district is working with schools and community partners to decrease suspension rates through methods such as restorative practices, a model that calls for schools to teach conflict resolution and relationship building. A central tenet of Santelises’ blueprint is a focus on social-emotional learning and rehabilitative responses to misbehavior.
“This is not a zero-tolerance district,” said Karen Webber, Open Society Institute’s education and youth development director. “This is a restorative district.”
More than 40 schools utilized the restorative practices model last school year, and 79 used another behavioral framework emphasizing positive interventions. Webber predicts suspensions will drop further as the district continues to implement these models in additional schools.
“Leadership makes a difference,” Webber said. “We have a CEO who is embedded in the community, ensuring that school climates are what they should be so teaching and learning can happen.”