‘Suspensions are zero sum:’ Silver Springs suspension rate plummets, according to administrators | TheUnion.com

‘Suspensions are zero sum:’ Silver Springs suspension rate plummets, according to administrators

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

Last school year, Silver Springs High School had a suspension issue.

In 2018-19, the continuation school had a suspension rate of 40%, according to state statistics. With the highest rate of socioeconomically disadvantaged students in the Nevada Joint Union High School District, Silver Springs administrators have been working to help students reform while keeping them in school.

Recently, there have been changes: an On-Campus Intervention center was added, in addition to more personnel resources and a changed attitude among leadership toward restorative practices.

This school year, those differences have borne fruit. The suspension rate at Silver Springs is at 13.7%, according to data from school Principal Marty Mathiesen and Assistant Principal Scott Mikal-Heine.

“It’s been phenomenal,” said Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden at a March 11 district board meeting, speaking directly to Mathiesen and Mikal-Heine. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised… guys, I’d thought you’d be here two years from now.”

One of the biggest advantages the school now has, according to Mikal-Heine, is the On-Campus Intervention center, which students have visited an accumulative 223 days this school year, and where the median stay is one school day.

Safety net

While the coronavirus has altered how students will likely be learning for the rest of the school year, Mikal-Heine said his goal is to leverage the intervention center to keep suspensions under 20%. About 149 suspension days were avoided this year because of the center, for which Mikal-Heine said Silver Springs teacher-interventionist Kelly Good deserves much credit.

“It’s another safety net in helping kids transition and move on to graduation when they become seniors,” said Good of the center last July.

Good works both at the intervention site and as an intervention coordinator, which are separate roles for staff members at Nevada Union High School.

In the intervention center, students may do a number of things: work on their studies, write a “letter of restoration” to an individual they hurt, or, in some cases, simply refocus their attention.

Students often feel contrite after working with Good in the center, said Mikal-Heine.

But in addition to the intervention center, Silver Springs has experienced a cultural shift, according to the assistant principal. Administrators gather in a professional learning community and are leveraging restorative practices via informal conferences to demonstrate respect for students, and help them understand how they’ve wronged rather than simply enact punishments.

“We’ve moved away from a hard-and-fast matrix of discipline,” said Mikal-Heine.

Mikal-Heine acknowledged that despite the new investment in social support for students, much of these techniques are still new for staff members and yet, with what he’s seen thus far, he believes the changed attitude and practices have kept students in school, and created a better climate for learning.

“We need to be more conscious that suspensions are zero sum,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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