Recently, the Warren school district in Indiana discovered it was labeling kids “emotionally disturbed” at three times the average rate for the rest of the state.
About 3 out of every 100 Warren students got the designation, and, at the same time, the district realized it was suspending black students in the district at a rate higher than other students, said Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, who oversees the district’s Race to the Top grant.
So as part of its application for a piece of $400 million in federal money set aside for school systems, the 11,500-student district said it will work specifically on improving students’ behavior.
As part of the competition, districts could earn bonus points if they detailed how they would leverage partner agencies to address students’ social, emotional, or behavioral needs, ultimately improving academic achievement.
The bonus section also considered whether districts could scale up the ideas to high-needs students beyond those the districts would initially focus on and what measurable goals they set for how the work with partner organizations would improve students’ academic results.
In Warren, the district would have implemented strategies to address students’ behavior anyway, but the $28.6 million in federal money makes it easier and faster to do so, Kwiatkowski said.
Some of the district’s schools are in various stages of implementing Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions, or PBIS, an approach that provides targeted interventions for students who need it, in which students are taught very specifically what kind of behavior is expected of them, all over campus.
“We would have done PBIS,” Kwiatkowski, said, but “we would not have done it as well as we’re going to do it now.”
In the past, she said, the district has added interventions and supports when students struggled academically. “Now we’re intentional with behavior support as well,” she said.
The district will bring in support from PBIS experts and is partnering with a local hospital, a local counseling service, volunteers, and the Equity Project at Indiana University as part of its Race to the Top work on student behavior.
Because of Race to the Top money, the district will be able to include more teachers in training around PBIS, and more school staff in general.
“Without Race to the Top, that would not have happened,” Kwiatkowski said.
Click below to see how all 16 district Race to the Top winners are incorporating social, emotional, and behavioral learning into their plans.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.