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Our District Before Laura

Three years ago, we had 1046 suspensions for a district with 2,200 students. That is nearly a 50% suspension rate. At least three kids at every school left at noon due to their behavior. We were putting so many kids out into the community that they were running around during the day and it was causing problems in the city. Due to our suspension rates, we ended up in a Department of Justice settlement. When the lead investigator did a walkthrough of our schools she told us, “this campus supervisor was yelling at these kids,” and, “this teacher was screaming at this kid,” and she very clearly articulated that we basically had a hostile school environment. School staff did not have strategies to work with challenging behaviors. We tried implementing PBIS but even after training, our schools were still having the same issues with the same kids. So after two years of very little movement in terms of school discipline, we decided to add in Restorative Practices. Our challenge was how do we find someone to help us integrate Restorative Practices and align it with all the work we had already done with PBIS? I didn’t want it to be, “one more thing.” but instead woven together. My second biggest worry was that teachers would complain that without punishment, “there is no accountability anymore,” or, “kids can do whatever they want.” 

It was really a struggle. I could find restorative practices trainers, I could find PBIS trainers, but it was really hard to find somebody who could talk both worlds and knew exactly how to embed it. Prior to that, I was dubious on how this could be done. I was also looking for somebody that had hands-on experience and one day I stumbled upon Laura’s YouTube videos. What really caught my eye was how clear and succinct the message was and how when you finished each video, you really knew what you could do to make things better, what steps to take. 

Laura has a unique skillset that I couldn't find anywhere else. When I talked to Laura the first time, I could just tell she was exactly what our district needed. Once I discovered Laura Mooiman, I knew she was somebody who knew how to help me get it all connected and how it all aligned. Once I found Laura, I was incredibly confident that I had the right person supporting us and knew it was going to be a great rollout.

Our Schools After Working with Laura

Since working with Laura, we have reduced 67% suspensions overall in our district, and in one particular elementary school alone, saw a 55% reduction in just one year and our School Climate increased 10% overall.

 

What I didn't want to do is tell school administrators, “no suspensions,” because I've been in districts where I watched people play the numbers game. Our goal was really to change behavior and culture in authentic ways. Now when I am on school campuses I see restorative conversations, restorative questions, and just talking to kids differently. I'm very proud of the school principals and their hard work and I really think the clarity of Laura’s amazing training accounts for much of the success we've had. 

Before Laura came, our school climates were really negative  and chaotic and staff didn't know how to deal with the students. Even though we trained our staff on de-escalation strategies, it didn’t help. Laura literally taught our campus supervisors how to respond, “Rather than yell, you're gonna talk in a low slow voice,” and, “Rather than facing a student square on, you're gonna do a 45 degree angle.” Having that kind of specificity, clarity and practice really transformed our staff.

 

When our Department of Justice lead investor returned, she was thrilled because she saw a huge culture difference in how students were getting treated and remarked on it in our final report. Teachers and staff aren't yelling as much, they are talking to kids more respectfully. These huge changes really came about by bringing in Laura Mooiman. 

The investment in Laura's training has produced great results. Our school cultures are much more positive. Even our playgrounds feel different. Everybody has embraced the strategies and you can feel great growth on school campuses. Laura helped us literally shift how we do business and how we approach kids. 

I had two concerns before contracting with Laura. The first worry was how to integrate Restorative Practices into PBIS  without teachers seeing it as “one more thing.” I didn’t want it to be an, “either or,” but instead woven together. My second biggest worry was that teachers and staff would say that without punishment and suspensions, “there is no accountability anymore,” or, “kids can do whatever they want.” 

When Laura trained us, she reiterated that Restorative Practices do provide accountability, if you do it well. You can have the same behavior standards. It's just you handle it differently. Instead of just treating the symptom, you try to actually solve the problem. Laura did an amazing job of reiterating and modeling that the standards are there, but this is how we're gonna deal with behavior issues. 

What I found most valuable is that Laura had a lot of experience doing both PBIS And Restorative Practices, so she really knew how to blend the two programs so that ultimately my fear of people treating it as, “either or,” never materialized. Because of Laura's background as a school social worker and district administrator she was really able to help us problem-solve and she always knew how to keep the two blended together. 

As a result of our work with Laura, our students are happier because they're treated respectfully. Administrators are happier because they have a strategy that helps get at a deeper issue and the issue is resolved more quickly and easily. Principals are happier because they are having more impact on kids' lives and feeling more effective in their role. As an Assistant Superintendent, it made me a lot happier because now our teachers and staff were really able to help kids solve problems rather than sending them to the office.

 

At the heart of it, I believe that educators are in this business because they like kids, they want to help kids. Because of Laura we have a lot more fun because we can talk about how the problem got solved and now we focus much more on the positive.

If you are on the fence about working with Laura, absolutely do it. It's worth it. You will have such an effective implementation in a short amount of time. How you roll out an initiative like this, and how you train your staff makes such a difference on both the buy-in and on the teacher's ability to implement it. We had lots of presenters coming to us and nobody has had the impact that Laura did. Laura had a big impact on our district in a very short amount of time and we had so much better buy-in. So we are grateful. It's been exciting, but really, without Laura, it wouldn't have happened. She really was the perfect blend for us.

Janet Handley, Assistant Superintendent

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