What Discipline Looks Like At A Boston School With 325 Suspensions

What Discipline Looks Like At A Boston School With 325 Suspensions

Students prepare for the day in a morning assembly at UP Academy Holland in Dorchester. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

BOSTON — Second- and third-graders walk in silence through the hallways of UP Academy Holland. A student speaks to his classmate, and a teacher gives a soft but stern warning. UP Academy Holland’s rules are explicit: No talking in the halls.

Teachers walk along with the groups of students. Each teacher clasps a stick striped in rainbow colors, with clothespins bearing the students’ names clipped on from top to bottom. If your clothespin is at the bottom, in the red zone, it means you’ve misbehaved. And everybody knows it.

It’s all part of the “broken windows” theory of discipline at UP Academy Holland, a Dorchester public school that was declared “failing” in 2013. It’s now run by a nonprofit network under state supervision.

The theory, borrowed from policing, holds that cracking down on minor offenses will create a culture with fewer major ones. UP Academy Holland embraces that philosophy in the school turnaround plan created by state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and UP Education Network CEO Scott Given.

So UP instructs teachers to “sweat the small stuff” and meet every single infraction of the rules with an immediate consequence. Often, this means issuing an “automatic” — an automatic consequence for rolling your eyes, or wiggling in your seat, or disputing an automatic, on up to fighting and other dangerous acts.

“Structure is important,” says Given. “I think that it helps to create an environment where students can focus on learning.”

And Holland’s test scores have gone up. But some current and former Holland parents, staff members and students’ advocates say the emphasis on structure also creates a rigid school culture and that Holland imposes even a serious consequence — suspension from school — without the required notice or hearing. As WBUR reported Feb. 3, UP Academy Holland suspended kindergartners more times than any other Massachusetts school in the 2014-’15 school year.

In response, UP Education Network, which runs Holland and four other Massachusetts schools said it would stop suspending pre-K and kindergarten students.

But current and former parents and staff members responded with stories of their own. They describe overwhelmed staff, stern discipline practices and their own concerns about how the school treats students with disabilities.

Students walk silently through the halls of UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

Students walk silently through the halls of UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

One teacher, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, sent WBUR discipline records for the current school year, with students’ names redacted. Those records show 233 in- and out-of-school suspensions in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade from August through January. Holland has about 750 students in those grades.

Last year, state data show, the school imposed 325 suspensions overall. Massachusetts schools, on average, out-of-school suspended one in 33 students. UP Academy Holland out-of-school suspended one in 11.

“Any removal from the school we take incredibly serious and before that can happen we have to go through a very complex process that is checked by our receiver before any exclusion is authorized,” says Jabari Peddie, UP Academy Holland’s principal.

State Education Commissioner Chester says the school must improve.

“There’s no rationale for suspending young people at that kind of rate, that’s just unacceptable,” says Chester. Still, he expresses confidence in the school’s administrators. “I feel very confident that we will get this moving in the right direction.”

Of Holland’s 233 in- and out-of-school suspensions so far this year, 117 were for first- and second-graders, according to the records supplied to WBUR. The school has about 250 students in those grades. Students with disabilities substantial enough to keep them out of regular classrooms were suspended 37 times, the records show.

“I feel like instead of teaching kids how to be successful in life, we’re teaching them how to behave like robots,” the teacher says. “And if they don’t behave like robots, we’re teaching them that they’re really bad kids with really big problems.”

The teacher pointed to the school’s philosophy of punishing even small infractions, like rolling their eyes, sucking their teeth or not sitting in “scholar ready position” as setting students off.

“They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m such a bad kid, I’m going to act out and act crazy now.’ When all they were doing was slouching,” the teacher says. “And kids get really escalated.”

Zaina Amin-Jajah has a son in second grade at UP Academy Holland. She praises the school’s structure.

“Kids will do whatever they want,” Amin-Jajah says. “But when you give them some rules to work with they will always be in shape.”

UP Academy Holland posts its values in a hallway. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

UP Academy Holland posts its values in a hallway. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

Not only does Holland report more suspensions than many other schools, but it also suspends students without following the required procedures, some parents and an attorney say.

“By state law, an out-of-school suspension is if a child is sent home early for disciplinary misconduct,” says Elizabeth McIntyre, a lawyer who has represented seven students at UP Academy Holland. “So if school gets out at 3:05 and a kid is sent home at 2:45 — that’s a day of suspension.”

As an Equal Justice Works fellow at Greater Boston Legal Services, McIntyre represents students who have been unlawfully suspended or expelled. Almost all are students of color, she says, and all have disabilities. Her clients’ median age is 8.

All too often, McIntyre says, schools don’t count sending a child home early as a suspension.

“No, I mean they’re just not,” McIntyre says. “By and large, schools send particularly little kids — particularly little kids with disabilities — home regularly without all of these processes that they’re supposed to go through.”

Those processes include notifying parents before the student is suspended, holding a hearing on the suspension and, in certain cases, determining whether the student’s disability caused the behaviors, in which case suspension is forbidden. By state law, parents can appeal the suspension to the district superintendent.

For instance, Boston Public Schools’ Code of Conduct lists specific measures: Before any suspension, school staffers must document that they’ve tried discipline that keeps the student in class. Principals must notify the district superintendent in writing before any suspension of a student in kindergarten through third grade. And a student’s parents or guardians can appeal the suspension to Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang.

“I support UP Education Network’s decision to stop its practice of suspensions for our youngest students,” said Chang, in a statement. “Suspensions should be the last resort when it comes to discipline, even in challenging situations.”

But UP Academy Holland, while still considered a public school, no longer reports to the superintendent of Boston Public Schools. So, rather than notifying Chang, principals are told to notify Given, the UP CEO. And if parents want to appeal, they would appeal to the CEO, not to a public official.

“Suspension is a multi-step process. Ultimately the school makes the decision, they know their students the best,” Given says. “But as a receiver we provide guidelines and oversight to the process.”

Sharlene Sutton and her son, Jayden, wait on the front porch for his school bus to arrive. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Sharlene Sutton and her son, Jayden, wait on the front porch for his school bus to arrive. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

One of McIntyre’s young clients, Jayden, knows the suspension drill only too well. He entered Holland’s first grade in 2014, the same year that UP Education Network took control.

Jayden’s mother, Sharlene Sutton, got daily calls to pick him up. No notice of suspension. No hearing.

In first grade, Jayden couldn’t recognize many of his letters.

“How could he learn anything by them calling, ‘Come get your son,’ every minute?” Sutton says. “He can’t learn nothing like that.”

Jayden has a diagnosis of ADHD and significant developmental delay; he required specialized instruction in kindergarten, plus speech and language therapy. His history also includes behavioral and emotional disabilities, trauma and homelessness.

And he acts out. UP Academy Holland records, which Jayden’s mother shared, cite one instance in first grade when Jayden ran from his classroom — three times in one day. An incident report says he stabbed a fellow student with a plastic knife and said he was going to kill him.

That resulted in a formal, one-day out-of-school suspension.

Other times, though, McIntyre says Jayden was disciplined, removed from class, physically restrained or sent home for less obviously dangerous actions: kicking a whiteboard, trying to drink Purell, eating paper or running from class.

Principal Peddie would not comment on specific incidents, but says the school uses physical restraints rarely.

“Restraints, if ever used, are only used by individuals who have gone through a very rigorous training,” Peddie says.

Jayden, now 8, still remembers one time when a Holland teacher sent him out of class.

“I wanted to come back in. She said when I’m ready,” Jayden says. “But I was ready till she didn’t want to let me back in.”

So he started acting out.

“So I got upset, then I was beating up on another student, because she didn’t let me in,” Jayden says. “Now that’s when she let me in the door, and that’s when she made a call.”

A "calm-down room" at UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

A “calm-down room” at UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

Jayden was sent to one of the school’s “calm-down rooms.” A first-floor calm-down room is a former storage closet, still labeled “STORAGE” on an outside sign, that’s been turned into a dedicated space for timeouts.

Sometimes students stay in there alone while a staff member waits outside. The door has a small window for observation, although not every corner is visible through it. If a student is in the room longer than half an hour, the staff must notify the principal.

Malikka Williams’ son Malik attended UP Academy Holland in kindergarten. She remembers the first time she saw one of the calm-down rooms.

“Tears just started coming down my eyes, because it reminded me of a hospital ward room for psychiatric,” says Williams. “And I remember at that moment I said, ‘My God, this is not OK.’ ”

School administrators say they put students there only when they pose a danger to themselves or others. Principal Peddie says it allows students to calm down.

“We give students the space and the opportunity to self-regulate and really put themselves in a position where they feel as if they can be successful,” he says.

But Robert Cross, Malik’s dad, remains concerned.

“Why would you put a 5-year-old in an isolated room?” Cross asks. “Why would you suspend a 5-year-old, at that matter, you know?”

Jabari Peddie is principal of UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

Jabari Peddie is principal of UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

Malik started kindergarten at UP Academy Holland in September. Malik, who Williams says is diagnosed with social-emotional delay, was suspended 10 times in the first half of this school year.

It could start small. One time, Williams says, it started with laughter.

“He was in dramatic play, and a little girl whispered in his ear,” says Williams. “And when she whispered in his ear, it kind of tickled and he yelled out, ‘Aaah!’ ”

The teacher asked Malik to use his inside voice, Williams says. But he laughed and yelled again, loudly. So, Williams says, he was sent out of the classroom to the dean of students’ office.

“And he gets in the dean’s office, and he’s acting out because he was removed and he doesn’t understand why laughing is a problem,” Williams says. “If he can’t regulate himself because he’s upset that he had to go to dean’s office, so now [he’s] in there a little bit longer.”

Michael Cross enjoys a little playtime with his son Malik after school. Malik attended UP Academy Holland in kindergarten. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Michael Cross enjoys a little playtime with his son Malik after school. Malik attended UP Academy Holland in kindergarten. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Soon, according to the school records Williams shared, Malik’s behavior became a daily problem. And as the semester wore on, it got worse. Often, Malik could get genuinely dangerous. He’d have outbursts, throw things, try to attack staff, or run out of class. That would put him back in the dean of students’ office, or DOSO.

“Once my son knew that he was going to DOSO, that outburst is going to be [magnified] because he doesn’t even understand what he did wrong,” says Williams. “He’s scared.”

Eventually, Williams says, she was getting texts and calls almost every day to pick up Malik. More often than not, it wasn’t a formal suspension, just a demand that she come take him out of school. Sometimes, she says, a staff member told her that if she didn’t take Malik, they’d call EMS to do it.

“It got to the point that my phone would ring and my nerves became shot,” says Williams. “I do feel that through the numerous suspensions, calls and emergency removal threats, that you were pushing my son out.”

In January, Malik transferred to another school. Since then, he has not been suspended once.

“My son, when we pick him up, he runs to the car…,” Williams says with tears in her eyes. “He says, ‘Mommy, I had an excellent day!’ I’m so happy. Happy he’s happy.”

A student heads to class at UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

A student heads to class at UP Academy Holland. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

There’s abundant evidence that being suspended, even once, even in kindergarten, hurts students’ academic performance and increases their chances of dropping out later on. But in the face of genuinely dangerous behavior, educators often feel that they have no choice.

“We had kids throwing scissors, spitting, punching, throwing laptops, putting teachers’ phones in the sink, biting,” says a former UP Academy Holland staff member, who requested anonymity to avoid hurting her chances of employment. “From a kindergartner, I’ve been punched in the jaw. I’ve been spit at. I’ve been kicked.”

Holland suspended the school’s few very disruptive students often, the former staffer says, but staff members throughout the school also tried hard to avoid suspension whenever possible. Even with very disruptive students, she says, they were left searching for ways to keep them in class.

“I think that that was the sort of issue that really kept the administration up at night,” the staff member says. “The sort of ‘What do we do to fix this problem?’ ”

UP Education Network CEO Given says the UP Network schools are looking into new ways to handle students with significant needs.

“Earlier this year we started to recognize that our use of suspension for our youngest students was not the best approach to balance supporting all students and keeping the school safe,” says Given. “We thought that it was.”

Updated on March 11, 2016:

UP Education Network posted CEO Scott Given’s response to this story on its website.

“We take this critique to heart and are committed to continually improving. But we are also proud of and must celebrate the strides our students have made in the short time that we’ve been able to work with them.”

View the complete response here.

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  • Dan Davis

    This is disgusting.

  • Boston Poverty Law

    I have been on the Code of Conduct Advisory Council for Boston Public schools for 5 years. What I think is the problem is that there are monetary incentives for schools to do this to children and this is what needs to be fixed. The school throws the kid out but keeps the money that goes with him or gets rid of one kid so they can get a kid of the type they like. Nothing like this isd going on in the real free market world.

    • Monster

      Ding ding ding!

  • downtown21

    This is madness.

  • cohnjoyne

    My daughter attends UP Academy Holland. She feels safe and is excelling. I believe that is true for a majority of students at the school. I feel horrible for the students who are subjected suspensions and disciplinary actions. UP Academy Holland is basically a two-year old school. They are continually improving and finding new ways to better serve all of their students. The dedicated and caring teachers and staff at UP Academy Holland deserve recognition, not scorn, for striving to create a positive environment for the children of my community.

    • Jocelyn S

      I also would question what your daughter is learning from watching how the staff interact with “problem” students. I would argue there is damage being done there, and I worry about how she and others view these peers. I also worry about the anxiety level of the entire student body.

      • cohnjoyne

        My daughter has compassion for her fellow students and she and the staff help them make good decisions every day. I don’t think she sees them as a problem.

        I suggest requesting a visit to the school and seeing for yourself. It’s on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester.

        Unfortunately you won’t be able to visit the old Holland School before it was restarted, I can’t speak from experience, but I worry about the anxiety of the students that attended then.

        • Mary Nanninga

          As a teacher, I would like to respectfully point out that there is a very big difference between learning and test scores. I’m sure your daughter is a very smart girl, but don’t rely on test scores to tell you whether or not she’s learning.

          • cohnjoyne

            First, I thank you for your dedication and sacrifice as a teacher. Outside of parenting, I can’t imagine a more thankless and difficult job.
            As you may have read in my other comments, I judge the success of my daughters academic career by the fact that she loves school so much she doesn’t walk, she runs to school every morning. She loves her teachers and her classmates.
            I won’t judge her success based on test scores if you don’t judge her school based on a very one-sided article.
            I invite you to visit the school with me and see the love of learning I see every day.
            Respectfully,
            John Coyne

          • Mary Nanninga

            Fair enough. Your daughter sounds like an awesome young lady.

  • rushthis

    Ummmm. It’s either a model for safe schools, or a model for making extremely sneaky kids/teens.

  • Linetrap

    Irony? “How could he learn anything by them calling, ‘Come get your son,’ every minute?” Sutton says. “He can’t learn nothing like that.”

  • http://nellewrites.net nelle

    I loathe seeing ‘organisations’ taking over schools. This sort of wild variant becomes all too possible.

    Children are not sheep. They should not be treated like sheep. Common sense rules, but sometimes it takes some gentle guidance, not a sort of bludgeoning to educate on respect for others, etc.

    On the other hand, I greatly fear for children who fall outside what they consider acceptable. When I was a child, I was certainly quiescent and disciplined, but I also have a serious issue to contend with no one knew existed, and as time went on, I coped with it through what was then called ‘daydreaming’. It’s a safety valve for a mind. I fear for students who wander into such quiet space. I also worry over how extreme conformity encourages compliance rather than critical thinking and questioning. Kids need to understand at some point in their lives, questioning authority is vital to a healthy society.

    If we really want to make a difference in schools, knock off using these education organisations, and hire more educators. Smaller classroom size and quality educators who can learn each student’s strengths and weaknesses and help use that to guide the student to be the best they can be is the way to go, not cookie cutter moulding of students.

    • smithie30

      And, I would add, train those educators in how to work with students who have trauma history or social-emotional delays. Zero tolerance is the absolute worst way to go.

  • Samuel Sitar

    any conversation at my work is done between customer orders. that’s how we allow it.

  • FrancisMcManus

    The school could make more efficient use of bath rooms by training children to pee on demand when they hear a clapping sound.

    Here’s another idea, lunchtime only if they perform a feat of athleticism in silence.

    Tolerance of and compliance with strict behavioral regulation is behaviorism, training based on stimulus, punishment or reward. It’s militaristic and it’s dehumanzing to be told you cannot speak as you move about the school in the hallways. It’s a kind of learning but it’s not academic learning based on experience, thinking and expression. It’s the opposite of expression, socialization and interaction.

    What is the academic training of the men who designed the rules?

  • jimjogs

    After forty one years as a school psychologist with thirty seven years in public schools working daily with disruptive and learning disabled children (and in my last ten years the graduation rate in my high school was consistently over 98 percent) I see this whole jackbooted approach to managing/abusing children as pure and simple uneducated BS. Whoever thought it up most likely never taught in their life or have a degree in education. They all ought to be arrested for child abuse.

    • shadowcub

      There just are no words…………micromanaging children like this? Turning school into a place where you dread going? This is a stupid idea. Common sense has gone out the window and into the wind.

  • Campnurse

    This is one point of view on a very complicated problem. To a lay person, when they read that disabled kids are getting suspended, it sounds horrifying. I think that by disability they are talking about ADHD, ODD, mood disorders, learning disabilities. What the major problem here is LACK OF PEDIATRIC MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, broken up medical care, lack of a team approach in helping a child function and be successful, lack of school funding for good teacher/student ratios, and lack of parenting skills (in some cases). I would love to see WBUR air a story with these vital points included.

    • Lawrence

      Oh, sure, push more dangerous pills onto kids. That’s the answer.

      • Campnurse

        If the pills help the student stop dangerous behavior, such as throwing objects at other school children and teachers, chasing kids and teachers around threatening them, attempting to run out of the school and into traffic, then yes. If your child came and told you they were afraid of a classmate at school that was harming them, I’m sure you would prefer that student gets the medical help they need to manage their emotions and behaviors.

  • A teacher

    It is a very difficult issue. I would not want to do most of the things described in this article, but I understand how they got there.

    Can you? What I’m saying is, it’s easy to be outraged. Now, try to help really address a very hard and pressing issue in education. How do you balance the needs of the students above with the equally important needs of their peers – the other 10 out of 11 of students? I don’t hear any other serious proposals to do that, or even much awareness of how critical this issue is. But it really needs to be addressed. Unless you have a better approach, you’re just saying put it back on the teachers and the other children.

    Late in the article you say a little about how another teacher experiences some of the behavior issues. Write another set of articles about what it’s like to be a teacher. And then some more about the students and families who are trying to learn.

    It is more complicated than it seems.

    • cohnjoyne

      Thanks for this and for the job you do. I avoid these comment sections always, but I feel calm, sane voices need to be heard.

  • Anna S.

    I think this school would benefit from a few behavior specialists and school counselors. It racks my brain to think of suspending five year olds for disruptive behavior. Some of these kids who don’t find school rewarding due to learning disabilities, or other difficulties, or just being a kid might have realized quickly that disruptive behavior will get them out of school. Also, putting a kid in a “calm down room” to self-regulate will have little effect (and could actually escalate the situation quickly) if the child does not know how to self-regulate. It breaks my heart to think of kids who have experienced trauma being sent home for outbursts that they likely can’t control. It’s nice to read though that school leaders have recognized the need to find alternatives to frequent suspensions and are working on a plan to address this.

  • Christine Langhoff

    This is not schooling based in sound pedagogy, knowledge of child development, trauma informed advocacy, or any other kind of educational methodology. Those running this school are using ideas from “Teach Like a Champion” by Doug Lemov, which are promulgated by, among others, Relay “Graduate School”. Relay has charter teachers demonstrate to other charter teachers, via video, how to use the techniques UP is following, which is why I used quotation marks. Most disappointingly, the new ESSA enshrines Relay and others as an appropriate means to alternative certification.

    The practices described above are abusive, especially as they are perpetrated against the youngest and most vulnerable children in our city. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took over the Holland School because of low test scores (improverished, homeless, SWD and ELL kids score very badly on such tests everywhere they are administered). The school was given to UP Academy to run on a no-bid basis. Parents do not choose this school as they might a charter; kids are assigned to it as their zoned school. DESE and Mitchell Chester are responsible for what has happened to these children. The questions are: what did they know; when did they know it; what have they done about it. If they did not know they have no business taking control from local school systems.

    Here is the Board of Directors of UP Academy. No educators: lawyers, folks from Pearson and Bain, hedge funders, oh, and the Dorchester Community Activist is the wife of Mayor Walsh’s Chief of Education, Turahn Dorsey.

    • FrancisMcManus

      Thank you for the background information. These ideas don’t pop out of thin air. It takes someone with expertise in the field who knows the history.and the framework to explain.

      “UP Academy Holland embraces that philosophy in the school turnaround plan created by state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and UP Education Network CEO Scott Given.

      So UP instructs teachers to “sweat the small stuff” and meet every single infraction of the rules with an immediate consequence. Often, this means issuing an “automatic” — an automatic consequence for rolling your eyes, or wiggling in your seat, or disputing an automatic, on up to fighting and other dangerous acts.

      “Structure is important,” says Given. “I think that it helps to create an environment where students can focus on learning.”

      • Christine Langhoff

        These practices are common among a certain set of “reformers”. I wasn’t aware of the background of UP Holland’s principal, but was unsurprised to find this information on LinkedIn:

        Mr. Peddie holds a BA in English from Morehouse and has no background whatsoever in pedagogy, other than the five week training offered by Teacher for America. After that initial stint, he moved to KIPP schools, which are so well versed in the abusive practices documented in Balonon-Rosen’s article that KIPP is said to be an acronym for Kids In Prision Pipeline. Few of KIPP’s teachers hold anything other than an alternate certificate. But UP determined that he was qualified to lead a school which demographically is fully of children with very high needs – poverty, English language learners, SWD’s.

        The term principal derives from “principal teacher”, as in the “main” teacher, i.e., the one with the most experience and mastery at the role of teacher. (Headmaster, similarly, is the head schoolmaster.) Charter schools, and those who fund them, have discarded this mode of educational leadership as old-fashioned. I believe that most 30 year olds lack both the professional experience and the life experience to be in charge of 750 children and their teachers. Five years in a classroom is a woefully brief period to have developed a repetoire of strategies for reaching such vulnerable children. It seems Mr. Peddie has learned only one modality – extreme discipline.

        It’s amazing to me that the state board of education has given its imprimatur to such a model.

        • FrancisMcManus

          Christine, you could offer yourself as a consultant. How about it WGBH?

          • Christine Langhoff

            Kind words, thanks!

  • Mumbles

    Numerous studies have been done on parental disciplinary styles. Both ends of the extreme – extreme authoritarianism and extreme permissiveness – have horrible rsults. The best style is a mixture of both – firm but rational rules with consequences, but consequences that proportionally fit the infraction.

    Of course the benefit of extremes is they’re easy to administer. Either punish everything, or let everything slide. And this is why this school is opting for the extreme – it saves silly time on actually deciding whether punishment should be administered, and what it should be. You know – wisdom and discretion.

    And that’s the problem with charter schools. They do not attract or hire teachers with experience and specialized training.

    And maybe the scores go up. Wanna know why? They kick out any kid who poses any sort of difficulty or disciplinary problem. But our society has an obligation to teach those kids too.

    I worry what’s going to happen is all the problem kids are going to be shunted off to specific schools (and you know it aint charter) and ignored. We’ll create hordes of antisocial “droods” a la Clockwork Orange.

    We are at a turning point now where we can slow our roll on charters, or go all in. I worry that with this combination of a pro-business governor and a complete stooge of a mayor, we may opt for the latter.

  • Kustanya McCray

    Why do people comply so easily at the detriment to their children. Mine would not go. PERIOD. I would change address and use another school or homeschool but mine absolutely would not deal with this bs.

  • Tom

    Before UP took over these schools, there was a chaotic environment where no readers of this article would send their own children or loved ones. Now, the schools are doing great, achievement is on its way up, and kids are learning and thriving. Clearly, this school is better now than it was before UP took over. UP willingly chose to take on the most challenging work in education–turning around failing schools–because it believes in the potential of children. People who have risked or ventured nothing to fix this school are now using their energies to critique the methods of those who actually led this magical transformation.

    • Jess Yarmosky

      I am calling complete and utter bullshit. Are you a public school teacher, like I am, Tom? Are you a parent, Tom? Or are you simply another person who thinks he knows everything about so-called education “reform” simply because you see test scores going up?

      How many readers would willingly send their four- to nine-year-old children to this school as it is? Would you? I, for one, would never. I would NEVER want my child to be subjected to these abusive, militant, exercises, and neither would my parents. But see, I’m white and upper middle-class, so when I was little, my parents didn’t get lied to about how test scores are everything, and high test scores = “achievement”, and “achievement” = getting out of poverty. My parents weren’t told that “no excuses” schools would lead to better outcomes for their children, which extensive research has shown is simply not true. My parents weren’t fed sound bites about “structure” while my livelihood, my infectious childhood energy, was stomped on by (often inexperienced) teachers.

      You say the kids are learning and thriving. I dare you, Tom, to spend the day in one of these environments. And if you’re not a teacher (which I assume you’re not, because of your blatant disregard for the very real, serious problems with the school as highlighted by this article) I dare you to accompany a group of public school teachers as they tour this school. A few years ago, a group of teachers from my grad program visited this very school, spending the day in classrooms, talking to teachers, and talking to any student they could find before the student was told to be quiet. Do you know what their overwhelming finding was? “Worksheets, All worksheets.”

      Learning and thriving? Please. If their discipline tactics are inhumane, what exactly are they doing in the classroom, instructionally? You think these kids are interacting in groups, doing high-level projects, writing stories for each other?

      See, as a society we try to “fix” things by stomping them out. UP saw an opportunity to forward its terrifying and, frankly, undemocratic approach to education by taking over this school. “Challenging work?” Are you kidding? You know what’s really challenging? Teaching a room full of hungry kids who didn’t sleep last night because they were kicked out of their houses. You want to suspend these kids away? Too bad. We follow actual protocols. We can’t weed out the kids who make us look “bad” or lower our test scores or who are, simply, children who would do better in a different environment.

      If you’re still not convinced, I urge you to do some of your own research. I suggest you read”The Allure of Order” by Jal Mehta, which will help you explore what quality instruction actually looks like.

      • cohnjoyne

        Ms. Yarmosky,
        First, thanks for the work you do as a teacher and as someone concerned for the well-being of the students of my community.

        I’m not sure of Tom’s situation, but I do send my daughter to this school. She is excelling. Every morning she doesn’t walk, she runs to school. She loves her teachers and her fellow students. School discipline is a very complicated issue. When a student can’t find success, it is heartbreaking. I don’t have all the answers, neither does UP Academy Holland. Neither does the suburban public school that my friend teaches at. They use many of the same systems as UP Academy Holland.

        I am not sure when you visited UP Academy Holland, you mentioned a few years ago, the school has only been an UP Academy for a year and a half. And as expected in school that is brand new, it is constantly trying to improve.

        I invite you to come to the school with me and see the kids who are excited to learn about their world in a caring and safe environment. As I mentioned in another comment, you won’t be able to visit the school before UP Academy took it over because the situation there was so bad, the state needed to take it over.

        I personally am thankful for the UP Academy organization and the people who support it, no matter what their background. I see the successes every day.
        Thanks,
        John Coyne

        • Jessica Yarmosky

          Hi Mr. Coyne,
          I appreciate your response and your invitation to come visit. I was mistaken; the visit I talked about in my post (which, unfortunately, I did not myself attend) was at UP Academy Dorchester in the spring of 2013.
          I understand that, as a parent, you value the efforts of the school and I also understand that a new school is forever growing and changing. I recognize, too, that the “before picture” of the Holland was not pleasant, and thus this change has been positive for you.
          I would like to take you up on your offer to come see the school. I know we may fundamentally disagree on some points, but I am always willing to engage in dialogue with those with whom I do not necessarily agree.
          Thank you!
          EDIT: for some reason, this is not letting me post as my original username.

          • cohnjoyne

            I just talked to an administrator at the school and he welcomed a visit anytime. I am not sure how to switch from a comment thread to real communication but if you are on twitter I am @cohnjoyne.

          • Jessika Olivares

            I love that you will both get the chance to share experiences. I would be interested in reading about the experience after such visit. #charterschoolteacherANDparent #NewJersey

  • Dave Madeloni

    Compliance factory….

  • Paul Johnson

    As evidenced by the photos displayed in the article, it appears that many (most) of the pupils are students of color. With due regard for the theory that improved conduct equals improved grades, doesn’t this look a lot like our criminal justice system and mass incarceration beginning at age 4 or so for African Americans ? The CEO of UP Education Network mentions keeping the school “safe” ? Coincidentally, over 50% of the suspensions were eight year old students of color ? Does anyone see a pattern here ? The “calm down” room has a small window for “observation “. Gee, looks and sounds a lot like a prison cell to me… Perhaps these concerns might be better addressed directly with Scott Given, UP Education Network Founder/CEO who happens to be white, or Tim Nicolette, President, UP Education Network who is also white. Or one could maybe talk about the matter with Ryan Knight, Director of Strategy UP Education Network who also happens to be white, or maybe Nicole Barry Dion, Chief Operations Officer UP Education Network who is white. Then again, if none of these white people who make the policy and preside over every executive duty for UP Education Network aren’t able to help you, there’s always Kate Mahoney, Director of Operations at UP Academy of Dorchester who happens to be… you guessed it, white.

    • Lawrence

      Jabari Peddie is principal of UP Academy Holland and is black. He’s also the person that the kids interact with, not the CEO.

      • Mary Nanninga

        Way to split hairs, Lawrence. Way to ignore practically the entire post.

        • Lawrence

          You were the one who intentionally omitted this pertinent fact.

      • AOM

        So that makes this okay? You act like black people aren’t complicit in this system. Some of them have to be, for it to work. Some blacks were also complicit in slavery, too — it still didn’t make that okay.

        • Lawrence

          Well, right you are. But for the person who commented to point out the top administrators are white as somehow pertinent is flawed reasoning. Because as you say, blacks can be just as racist, and complicit.

    • Mary Nanninga

      Absolutely spot on. The treatment of African American people in the land of the free and the home of the brave is not only embarrassing, it’s horrifying. It’s immoral.

      This school should be closed. Maybe all the people running this school could find a prison to work at.

  • Brandynn Holgate

    I have one word for this…TRAUMA

  • BLB

    This was a disappointingly one-sided article. How many WBUR listeners would put up with their own children in a classroom where other students are throwing chairs, threatening others with scissors, and biting people? This is a complicated issue and vilifying the school is simplistic and unhelpful.

  • Aleja

    This is the pipeline to prison in action…as an educator, I am appalled by what I have just read in this article.

  • galdove

    As I was listening to the story, I could only think how ridiculously insane their focus was on punishing every little human action or reaction by young children. You could actually visualize the glee on a teachers face wanting to pounce on the chance to inflict punishment. This school lacks common sense, common decency Their methods sound very sadistic or very strict religious based. Do they not know how to use the skills they were taught as an educator? Sounds very similar to privately run prison operations. Someone must be making a lot of money.

  • AJK

    This program is really sad. These kids are not getting any encouragement to WANT to learn. They are labeled bad when part of the problem is frustration at being cooped up in overcrowded classrooms all day. A really great example of school success, and more importantly CHILDREN succeeding is education in Finland.

  • Educator

    This article does not do an adequate job of offering perspective. Any school put under a microscope will show vulnerabilities. In the case of this school, their vulnerability is not their suspension or discipline policies. It’s much bigger than that. When you have schools who have failed as a result of a lack of funding and systemic racism, you have much bigger issues. When UP took over the school it wasn’t “failing”, it was devastating a community that had no means to send their kids anywhere else. The state underfunded the school so badly that teacher retention and vital academic resources were non-existent. If you’re going to title an article referring to the school as the highest suspension rate, you are not doing your readers justice by withholding the fact that the school use to be the worst performing school in the state before UP came in. It’s a testament to the teachers and administration to acknowledge that the suspension problem is real, and they are constantly working to improve the ways the handle the unforeseen incidents that occur daily at this higher risk school. That shouldn’t take away from the dedication, drive, and ability of the teachers and staff who have done an remarkable job making this school 4x higher achieving that it was 3 years ago.

  • Fran

    “We give students the space and the opportunity to self-regulate and really put themselves in a position where they feel as if they can be successful,” he says. Sorry Mr. Peddie, terrible idea. Leaving kids alone to learn to self regulate when they are overwhelmed is bad practice and abusive. Isolation only teaches the kid they are alone and no one will help. Humiliation teaches them to not take risks. Suspension teaches them they are unwanted. Kids do well if they can. And if they can’t, they need to be taught through focused attention by a caring adult, empathy, listening, collaboration and involving family members in solving the problem. The appearance of discipline does not mean students are more available for learning. What they are learning is self-preservation.

  • Taelor Noel Russell

    I was a founding first grade teacher at UP Dorchester for two years. My two favorite students were also my most challenging students. They became my favorites because we had very emotionally intimate moments when they found themselves in their darkest place. I had a calm down corner with lots of pillows, books, therapeutic sand, and crayons all concealed by a curtain so they could calm down privately. One of my students had severe anxiety and would start shaking. No matter what I was doing, even if I was in the middle of teaching, I would run to him and rock him until he was calm. As a class, we had practiced what we do if one of our friends needed extra love. Like a loving family, they would independently read their books or grab a math center so I could focus on my sad little one. However, even through all that, the curtain was ripped down; the crayons were thrown across the room at students (who so calmly would move and say “its going to be okay”); punches were punched; desks and chairs were thrown; books slapped me in my face; little feet sprinted out the door. It would reach a point where it was too dangerous for my other 24 students for the tantrum to continue and I would have to call the dean of students. They always came back to me though, curled up next to me and apologized with tears in their eyes. My class would lovingly welcome them back and again, we were a family of smiles.

    My heart broke and I would cry all the way home each time they had to be suspended. I missed them desperately and I know it hurt them. But, there has to be a way to make it clear that even in our darkest emotional places, certain behaviors are unacceptable. As a teacher who had done everything she could to wrap her students in love and support, this data should not be a reflection of what UP or its teacher have failed at. It should be a desperate cry for help. Our education system is broken and leaves our most struggling kiddos without the support they need. Divisive articles only further divide those who have the opportunity to be the voice for these students. We should be united in our demand for our education system to prioritize sufficient therapy for our most traumatized and emotionally disabled students,

    • Bill Schechter

      “I know it hurt them.” Please spare me you kind of love and your family of smiles. Your post drove me into a very dark place. Charter Schools do not deal with the most traumatized and needy students. This was not a divisive article, it was a very revealing article about the scary pedagogical philosophy of Charters. Why should anyone respond to your cry for help? Charter teachers claim to have the solution. Apparently it is called fear and suspension. The public school in which I taught had a very different approach.

      • Taelor Noel Russell

        Tell me, Bill, how many of your kindergarten and first grade students at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional H.S. live in poverty? How many ride the T with her mom after school to her job because her dad abandoned her and her mom is going to college during the day. How many missed school every Friday to visit their dad in jail? How many watched their mom get smacked around and had to live with grandma and 5 of your cousins? How many got taken from their mom and were bounced from foster home to foster home without their siblings? How many moved from Haiti halfway through their short life and without fluency in either language, tried to learn how to read in English at school while only speaking creole at home, all while dealing with severe anxiety and an emotional disability? And then tell me Bill, what did you do when one of your students could not regulate their emotions, crying out for love and attention, and were physically violent toward you or heaven forbid one of your other 24 students because it’s nearly impossible to regulate THAT many painful emotions in such a tiny body? What did you do when your district can barely afford the legal ratio of students to teachers and only ONE school psychologist for 750 children who need someone to help them understand their emotions and how to process and express it in a healthy way. What did you do Bill? What did you do better? Did you get to school an hour before the kids and leave two hours after so that your 1.5 hours of in school planning time and lunch combined could be spent one on one with students processing their emotions and practicing healthy behaviors? Did you call 5-10 parents a night, making sure all 25 of your students got positive praise home from their teacher at least once a week, regardless? What did you do better? Tell me and we will all try it because all we want is to give our students the best we can. But the problem is, that even when we do the best we can, and most of the time tirelessly, urban schools in high poverty areas do not have the resources they need to do the ideal job they desperately want to do. So we do the best with what we have. Tell us how to do better with what we have, from all of your experience working at the impoverished Lincoln-Sudbury Regional H.S. Until then, join our fight for resources of more quality teachers (higher ratio of teachers to students), more in school therapy and psychologists for our poorest school districts, don’t fight against it.

      • cohnjoyne

        Mr. Schechter,
        I do not know exactly what you are responding to as the comment has been deleted. I can assure you that this is a divisive article as it is very one-sided. I know that because my daughter attends this school. Two things you mentioned caught my eye: 1. Up Academy Holland is not a charter school. 2. None of the teachers at this school claim to have the answer. The teachers do however get up every morning try to help my daughter and her classmates learn and succeed. I thank you for your service as a teacher and I invite you to come with me and visit the school and I think you will see something very different than what is portrayed in this article.
        John Coyne

  • JohnEssentials

    What would henn do

  • Monster

    On the one hand, I love to see charter schools get beat up on because they regularly pull stunts like this: suspending difficult kids until parents pull them out of school altogether, and then patting themselves on the back for “turning the school around.”

    On the other hand, you’ve never known uncontrollable madness until you’ve stepped inside a failing inner-city elementary school on a bad day. It’s a heavy, scary, and despairing experience, and it doesn’t take a tremendous percentage of troubled kids to create that atmosphere.

    • Jessika Olivares

      I have mixed feelings on this topic but one thing I did disagree with was the fact that the calming room did not have anything for students to use to channel their emotions. Paper, Writing Tools, Books, something to bring them back. Obviously not enough “stuff” to make it a Fun Room as opposed to a Calm Down Room but something. It is “asylum” looking.

  • Lawrence

    It’s sad that parents in these neighborhoods are so inept at discipline and managing their kids that they bring their disruptive behavior to school.
    Raised in uncivilized homes the burden now falls on the schools, other kids and our society as a whole.
    Undisciplined, lack of rules, uncivil conduct, violence, rudeness, no manners, all part of the new normal and without proper discipline, we are just enabling it further.

    Jayden who beat up a student is not a victim. Not able to control his impulses he directed his frustration by violently beating up another student. There is no excuse for that. They article fails to show how rules are indeed needed to control such uncontrolled behavior.

    • Louise Kennedy

      We welcome comments, but we do request accuracy, particularly when quoting another source.

      In the NPR article you refer to, the author being interviewed says: “Some researchers now — and it’s hard to figure out if this is accurate — argue that the crime epidemic was partly due to lead exposures, because of the inability of kids to restrain behaviors….” He was also speaking about lead poisoning, not parenting.

      • Lawrence

        You’re right, point noted and post changed. Thanks.

    • Mary Nanninga

      Way to cherry–pick, Lawrence. And in a comment above you were splitting hairs.

      Who taught you your debate skills? Or was it a class in employing logical fallacies?

      • Lawrence

        The premise that children who are not disciplined in home bring their disruptive behavior to school is quite logical and supported by common sense.

  • HelenL1

    The problem isn’t school, it’s home. So basically you are taking a bunch of kids of color who don’t have decent home lives and telling them to shut up or get out. That’s not teaching them how to be productive adults at all. A better way would be to meet the children in a way they connect to. For example, my son struggled in math. Well he used to. His teacher (who is brilliant) came up with music to get him to learn math skills. He excelled. She found a way to get him to understand. I bet if you ask any of these kids to sing a song from the radio, they’ll know every word. Teach through song, teach through hands on, teach through getting the parents to come in for education and stop saying things like “He can’t learn nothing like that”. How do expect children to speak English if it’s clear that the parents do not speak proper English. Why is it that most of us get this concept yet we have all these administrators who are idiots in charge? Salaries are so low that those of us with decent educations are in offices making great money and don’t want to dedicate ourselves to a broken system. Teachers may be book smart but most are not life smart. Discipline does not equal education. Education, whether it be through music, dance, art, board games, enacting plays is education. Whatever helps kids learn. As for suspending kids with medical mental disorders, you just can’t stop stupid and those kids deserve resources that they clearly aren’t getting.

  • disqus_cH4eHFGsDM

    I hope someone sees this, as I’m a little late posting but I want to echo some of the teachers thoughts below. I work with traumatized children who are put in my school after being “kicked out” of their traditional schools. We are a public school and my grades are in the 6-12th grade. As a career switcher, I’ve been on both sides of the “blame the teacher/system” rhetoric and can see value in both. I also agree that poorer African American kids are being sent to juvie and later to prison at incredibly high rates.

    What I don’t hear about is what to do when this set of children misbehave. I’ve seen 4’11 12 year old boys throw desks at pregnant teachers. Kids curse at teachers, stand on the tables, climb cabinets and throw chairs because of a minor offense, such as being redirected. I’ve had high school boys direct one another on where to hit a door I was standing at, so that I would be hit in my back. I’ve been threatened by kids, “Rat tat tat tat, if you came up in my hood”. These are the bad stories, I have plenty of good ones but what do you do with those kids when every one of the kids in my class has one of the following: a propensity for violence, are in a group home, have a parent currently or previously in jail, live in a group home, have witnessed someone close die of violence or it could be that they have been shot.

    100% of my children are black, so yes, data will reflect that X amount of African American students were suspended from my school but there’s no data to show the emotional improvement in the other African American children left in my classroom one are trying and are being protected by having the offending child removed. At the very least, it shows that there are consequences for their actions.

    The principal at my school is newer and can’t seem to find a balance between being a strict disciplinarian and wanting to be their “friend” and understanding. I’m not blaming him– he’s maybe the 5th principal the school has had and the problem is a social issue– not just an educational issue. I’m looking forward to a time when someone writes an article that doesn’t blame the teacher, shows the difficult issues in our schools and reflects the danger that teachers are facing in the classroom. Many of these kids need a one-on-one and in districts that can’t even support having a teacher’s aide for classes that are too large, a one-on-one is not a viable option.

    So we can feel bad for the kids (b/c I do) but don’t just sit on a pedestal and judge and gloat at the stupidity of others– be part of a solution b/c right now there isn’t one.