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School CP- November 1996

Indianapolis Star/News, Indiana, 12 November 1996

Sheridan principal off the hook in paddling case

By John M. Flora

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. -- Judge William Hughes has thrown out a criminal recklessness charge against Sheridan High School Principal Al Youmans.

Youmans was indicted Aug. 9 by a grand jury on a misdemeanor count of criminal recklessness in the February paddling of student Christopher Goodnight, 15.

Goodnight, who was being disciplined for fighting, chose three whacks with a wooden paddle over a three-day out-of-school suspension. His parents later went to authorities after seeking medical treatment for bruises on the boy's buttocks.

Working through the Veterans Day holiday, Hamilton Superior Court Judge Hughes Monday granted a motion by defense counsel William Wendling to dismiss the charge against Youmans.

In a prepared statement today, Youmans said, "We appreciate the wisdom and expediency of Judge Hughes' decision. So much time, effort, support and emotions have been invested in this unfortunate scenario that there are not adequate words to fully express our feelings."

Youmans expressed gratitude to attorneys Wendling, Todd Ruetz and Bill Shields, as well as to the Marion-Adams School Board, fellow administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents and supporters in Sheridan and across the country.

Nearly 100 of Youmans' supporters packed the courtroom Friday afternoon as Hughes heard arguments from Wendling and Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp.

"Our biggest regret," Youmans said, "is that more investigation and discussion was not pursued with the school board and administrators regarding a discipline policy that has been in effect in our school system for at least 50 years.

"We've had only four high school principals in that period of time, all of whom have followed the policy consistently and fairly. The young man involved in the incident was a good person before and remains so today."

Wendling had argued Youmans was protected by Indiana law when he paddled Christopher.

Corporal punishment, he said, has the sanction of Indiana courts and the General Assembly.

"There is a statute that says if someone does something they have a right to do, they are excluded from the ramifications of that act regarding criminal charges," he said. "The Indiana legislature has permitted Al Youmans to use corporal punishment. If there are any ramifications, he is protected by the statute that authorizes him."

Leerkamp said she will accept Hughes' decision.

"There are a number of courses I could opt for at this time, including a possible appeal of reconvening the grand jury to present the case for reconsideration on the charge at hand," she said. "After having spoken with the Goodnight family, my initial thought is we will accept the determination of this court.

"Acknowledging that, there is nothing that I would change in my review and handling of this case or cases similar to it," she said.

After the indictment, the Marion-Adams School Board did away with its corporal punishment policy.

Houston Chronicle, Texas, 30 November 1996

Sparing the rod:

Student self-discipline shifts burden for classroom order

by Melanie Markley

Copyright 1996 Houston Chronicle

On the day that teacher Craig Landwehr was absent and the substitute didn't show, nobody really noticed at first.

The class of Marshall Middle School seventh-graders took out their notebooks, reviewed what was written on the board and quietly went to work.

People passing the room didn't realize the students were unsupervised. They were all busily doing what they normally did the first thing in the morning -- writing in their journals.

University of Houston professor Jerome Freiberg some time ago had introduced a new classroom management program that teachers said was making students act much more responsibly.

Landwehr's class was a case in point.

A student named Sergio made a special notation in his journal about that day -- Oct. 20, 1995:

"I feel lucky because the day has just started and we already have been trusted in something we have never been trusted on, being alone. It is 8:15 and everything is cool. Nothing is even wrong. There is silence in the room."

Things weren't always so orderly at the near- northside school. There was a time, just a few years ago, when Marshall was what Billie Kennedy, the dean of instruction, describes as "the epitome of a nonfunctioning inner-city school."

Students roamed the hallways. They punched holes in the walls. They scribbled graffiti just about anywhere they felt they could get away with it. For three years in a row, test scores were so low that the school was on academic probation.

Katrina Willis, who was teaching at nearby Sherman Elementary at the time, encouraged her students to go to a middle school other than Marshall because of what she described as the school's atrocious reputation.

Carmen Nuncio, a neighborhood parent, refused to send her three oldest daughters to the school because of all the bad things she had heard. When it was time for her fourth daughter to go to Marshall 2 years ago, Nuncio enrolled her, but with some misgivings.

Roberto Gonzalez, who took over as principal in 1993, decided that it was time to turn things around.

He had significant help. Former Tenneco executive Jim Ketelsen, hoping to get more students on a successful path to college, had raised private funds to improve the education in schools attended by students who eventually would go to Davis High School.

Among the schools he was targeting was Marshall Middle. And among the programs he believed would improve education was Freiberg's Consistency Management and Cooperative Discipline.

As Kennedy and Gonzalez both attest, the discipline program completely changed the atmosphere of the school.

Vandalism has virtually disappeared, they said, and far fewer students are sent to the office for disciplinary reasons.

"The numbers are just dramatic," said Gonzalez, who has since become principal at Sam Houston High School. "It really made a big difference at the school."

Freiberg's program evolved from his own teaching experience, starting at a middle school in Providence, R.I.

"It seemed to me that too many of our inner-city kids were being overcontrolled," he said. "Instead of allowing kids to experience self-discipline, their whole life structure at school was being controlled."

Freiberg's focus is to instill self-discipline in students. And as one way to do that, students are given job responsibilities to help the teacher manage the classroom.

The students fill out applications for the 20 or so managerial jobs, and they interview for them. The jobs, which are rotated periodically, vary from class to class.

An attendance manager, for example, normally has the responsibility of taking roll. An absence packet manager might assemble notes and assignments for a student who is ill. A substitute teacher manager would assist the substitute teacher, giving support to a person usually treated more like a target.

Jobs are added if the teacher or the students feel there is a need. Once, when a preschool teacher grew tired of endlessly tying children's shoelaces, two students who had mastered the skill took over as shoelace managers.

"Basically, what the system does, it gives (students) empowerment because they become the managers of the classroom," said Donna Garmany, a seventh-grade reading teacher at Marshall. "It's their classroom, it's our classroom together, it's a cooperative environment. And it's just more friendly for everybody."

Class times are organized so that the minute the students sit down, they know exactly what they are expected to do. Lesson objectives and assignments are written on the board. And, just before going home, students normally listen to classical music while writing accounts of what they learned that day.

Good deeds and improving grades are rewarded with praise-filled postcards sent to parents.

Nuncio still talks about a postcard she received, telling her what a wonderful job her daughter had been doing as attendance manager.

"You are home getting your mail, getting your bills, and you get something like that, it just makes you feel so proud," said Nuncio, now a volunteer in the school.

While the program gives teachers considerable flexibility, the underlying theme is to treat students like citizens who have ownership in their school, not like tourists who are merely passing through.

At Jefferson Elementary, another school using Freiberg's program, teacher Ann Stiles tells of the time that a substitute teacher was rude and abrupt with her fifth-graders.

Rather than act out or talk back to the substitute, the students huddled during the lunch period and appointed someone to ask the assistant principal to visit their room and help resolve the problem.

"They really wanted to make things better, and they wanted to do it the right way," said Stiles. "I was really proud of them."

Willis, who once taught at Sherman Elementary, was so impressed with Freiberg's program that she took a job as his facilitator, helping to train other teachers about a system of managing a classroom that she found far less stressful.

"The day I implemented it," she said, "my life changed."

About 15 schools in Houston have adopted the program, as have some schools in Fort Bend, Tomball and elsewhere in Texas, including Henderson and San Antonio.

In the schools that began using the system, Freiberg said, student referrals to the principal's office have dropped by as much as 70 percent.

At Jefferson Elementary, for example, 278 students were sent to the principal's office in 1993-94. A year later, 145 were sent; two years later, only 79.

Research also showed that students and teachers have fewer absences and that student achievement improves. What's more, because of fewer disruptions and better planning, teachers find they have more time to concentrate on teaching.

Freiberg calculated that, on average, elementary teachers reported 14 additional minutes of teaching time each day while middle school teachers reported 20 extra minutes.

Freiberg, who is looking for state and local funding to expand the program, said he gets four to five calls a day from schools as far away as Chicago, seeking help with classroom management.

"All I do," he said, "is give teachers the tools. They make it happen."

In many ways, it is not surprising that programs such as Freiberg's are in such high demand.

Steve Antley, president of the Congress of Houston Teachers, said classroom discipline ranks at the top of teacher surveys on what they consider the biggest problem they face each day.

Indeed, particularly at a time when corporal punishment is in growing disfavor, teachers want alternatives.

The Houston school board several years ago voted to ban corporal punishment but allowed schools wanting it to seek waivers. Currently, 14 elementary schools and three middle schools in the Houston Independent School District have waivers.

But the board last month voted for schools that have abolished corporal punishment to help schools that still use it to find alternative methods.

The board stopped short of outlawing corporal punishment. But Laurie Bricker, who chaired a committee studying the issue, points to Freiberg's program in arguing that there are what she considers better methods.

Bricker, a staunch paddling opponent, said schools won't be punished if they persist in seeking waivers to administer corporal punishment.

But, she added, "we are really, really, really trying to strongly encourage schools not to want to have that waiver."

"It seemed to me that too many of our inner-city kids were being overcontrolled," he said. "Instead of allowing kids to experience self-discipline, their whole life structure at school was being controlled."

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