Durham Public Schools plans to partner with an educator-training company to teach restorative-justice practices in all of the district’s schools.
The Board of Education recently approved a one-year, $370,000 contract with the Flippen Group to train an initial 12 schools in the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program and other programs.
The idea is to continue working with the Flippen Group for five years, until all schools have been trained. Staff will monitor results each year.
The work will support the revised Code of Student Conduct, said Debbie Pitman, assistant superintendent for Student, Family and Community Services. A task force worked on the revision for a year to make it more fair and culturally sensitive, and the revised code was presented to the board in February.
“We’re on a cultural transformation journey,” Pitman said. “Part of what we’re looking for is not only a positive culture but a culture that fosters high student achievement with high student support.”
Restorative justice responds to undesirable behavior with mediation rather than punishment. The Capturing Kids’ Hearts program will teach educators how to create environments that emphasize respect, relationship-building and responsibility.
Specifically, said district spokesman Chip Sudderth, educators will learn how to emphasize connectedness, how to help students build their communication and conflict-resolution skills and how to intentionally model positive character traits to students.
In schools where Capturing Kids’ Hearts has been implemented, the Flippen Group says discipline referrals have decreased, attendance has increased and test scores have improved. The group also touts decreased teacher absenteeism and turnover.
In Durham, those first schools that are participating are not only ones that are “really excited” about the initiative, but also who need it, said Pitman.
They are Lowe’s Grove Magnet Middle, Shepherd International Baccalaureate Magnet Middle, Lucas Middle, Neal Magnet Middle, Lakewood Elementary, Oak Grove Elementary, Burton Magnet Elementary, Eastway Elementary, Y.E. Smith Elementary Museum School and W. G. Pearson Magnet Elementary.
Pitman noted they have two more slots to fill and that C.C. Spaulding Elementary, Eno Valley Elementary and Glenn Elementary are all under consideration.
Before voting unanimously to approve the contract, board members asked several questions regarding Flippen’s reputation and what district programs were being sacrificed to pay for it.
Deputy Superintendent for Academic Services Stacey Wilson-Norman said that staff had already looked at places they could cut to ensure funding for the program. For instance, school counselors usually work four weeks during the summer but that was cut to three weeks.
“We’re looking at what things are secondary because we now view this as primary work,” she said.
Board member Matt Sears wondered whether it might be better to spread out the cost over more than five years.
But Pitman said there was reason to move forward as quickly as possible.
“Until we can dig deep, the revised policy is going to be something that’s mostly – it’s a document,” said Pitman. “We’ve got to bring it to life.”
Board vice chair Mike Lee took note of the large price tag but said projects like these are why he ran for office.
“It is painful,” he said. “But I really applaud you all for actually finding a way to do this. …It’s like we’re resetting our foundation to build something bigger, something better.”
Superintendent Bert L’Homme described the contract as a way of supporting teachers and educators and, specifically, “investing in their capacity to do a better job.”