valtena_brown.jpgSchool and community partnerships are critical to the success of academic and behavioral programs that give every child an opportunity to excel. The synergy created by the collective efforts of external and internal education stakeholders often provides the foundation by which school districts develop innovative programs that positively impact a child’s academic and personal conduct in and out of school.

When the community takes a vested interested in children by working collaboratively with neighborhood schools and school districts, we all win. 

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) has always extended a hand of partnership to community organizations, including organizations such as Power U for Social Change, to find solutions to some of the challenges facing K-12 education, particularly as it pertains to appropriate school conduct and behavior.

Power U makes a compelling case for restorative justice programs that foster better outcomes for children whose conduct is inappropriate and disruptive.

But it is also critical for schools and community to work together to effect change and develop programs that benefit students. Community engagement that is both collaborative and supportive can be pivotal to a child’s success in the classroom and to their future after graduation.

M-DCPS offers many options for community involvement in education, including, but not limited to, volunteering with one of the district’s successful mentoring programs, working with school PTSA groups and supporting the efforts of school EESACs.

Like other large urban school districts, Miami-Dade has policies and procedures that address disruptive student behavior.

Traditionally, indoor and outdoor suspensions have been the possible disciplinary solutions for behaviors that disrupt the normal learning environment. School officials, however, continually explore creative strategies to address student behavior in a way that holds students accountable, but at the same time, fosters an environment that promotes growth in academics and corrective student conduct.

Restorative justice measures and other alternatives to student suspensions and arrests are just as important as accountability. 

While M-DCPS has not totally eradicated its system of addressing disruptive student behaviors through indoor and outdoor suspensions, it has made significant progress in mitigating the impact of disciplinary solutions on classroom instruction time and academic acceleration, especially for that of our most vulnerable students.

It’s important to note that the school district has made a shift in policy from a punitive model to a positive behavior model.

In fact, as a result of this policy shift and other alternative disciplinary interventions, indoor and outdoor suspensions, including student arrests, decreased substantially for the first grading period of this academic year compared to the same period last school year.

Indoor suspensions decreased by 21 percent while outdoor suspensions decreased by 31 percent and The Miami Herald reported in November that school-related arrests in South Florida, which includes Miami-Dade, dropped by more than half. 

While there are still challenges to striking the right balance between disciplinary measures sanctioned by the school district and restorative justice measures urged by groups such as Power-U, M-DCPS officials have made significant progress and demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that all students learn in an environment that is safe and free from disruption.

*Valtena Brown is chief operating officer of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.