St. Paul middle school gets help to handle disruptive students

A St. Paul middle school has signed on to a state approach to find ways to improve student behavior, prompted in part by parents who complained of "out of control behavior."

Ramsey Middle School will soon have additional personnel to work with disruptive students, a need made necessary by a St. Paul Public Schools effort to reduce suspensions.

A group of parents blamed that effort for unruly students at the school. Among them was Elaine Gillespie, who visited the school several times last year after her son told her about problems in his 6th grade classroom.

"The kids would be in the classroom cussing and swearing, in the hallways banging on lockers just walking around doing nothing, and just constantly disrupting the teachers," she said. "The teachers can barely even teach. The behavior is completely unacceptable."

• Nov. 7: Minneapolis to take a new approach to suspensions
• April 15: Eyeing racial disparities, schools try to cut down on suspensions

Gillespie said she and other parents shared their concerns with school district officials last year, but nothing was done.

This week, the same group of parents told School Board members that conditions at the school are worse. They called on the district to take action.

They were joined by members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.

Nick Faber, vice president of the union, says teachers at Ramsey don't think the school has enough staff to handle student behavior.

"There needs to be more folks in the hallway, there needs to be people working with kids who are having problems in the classroom and getting back on track," Faber said.

District officials, who say they were aware of the behavior issues at Ramsey as early as the beginning of last year, promise that relief is coming soon.

The district will soon hire three new staff members for Ramsey Middle to handle behavior interventions, said Lisa Sayles-Adams, the district's assistant superintendent for middle schools.

"It would have been nice to have these supports in place at the beginning of the school year," she said. "But I'm really happy we're putting them in place now."

Adams says the new student support system will be in place on Dec. 1.

The new staff members will work with students who need to be removed from the classroom to get them back on track.

They'll also collect data on which students are in trouble and work with them to prevent problems through mentoring and daily check-ins, Adams said.

"The model supports students," she said. "The model also supports teachers, it helps to ensure a safe learning environment and it helps us to focus our time on increasing academic instruction and getting to the business of students learning and teachers teaching."

The effort is modeled after one that went into place in two other St. Paul Middle Schools last year. It is part of the district's plan to reduce the number of students sent to the principal's office and identified as needing special education classes.

District officials see that as a way to address the disparity in the number of African-American students facing suspension, or in special education, compared to white students.

But the plan has faced criticism from some parents and teachers who say students who misbehave are disrupting classes, and don't face consequences.

Schools across the state are working to reduce the number of students sent out of the classroom for behavior issues through a program called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports.

The state Department of Education effort includes 400 schools, or about 20 percent of those in Minnesota.

It requires schools to develop alternatives to suspension and encourages school personnel to actively support good behavior instead of waiting until a student is in trouble to respond.

The program is making a difference, said Eric Kloos, a supervisor in the department's Special Education Division.

"We can certainly see it in our statewide data where the number of suspensions per year is on the decline," he said.

The number of suspensions in Minnesota fell by just over 10 percent from 2009 to 2013.

But even with that decrease a racial imbalance remains. In the 2012-2013 school year, black students, who make up 11 percent of the state's enrollment, represented 40 percent of Minnesota's suspensions.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.