The Napa Valley Unified School District is one of three districts statewide that have made notable achievements in their suspension and expulsion rates.
The number of students being suspended or expelled in California declined sharply during the last school year, as more schools and districts put into place measures designed to keep young people in the classroom and learning. Across the state, the total number of expulsions decreased by 12.3 percent, from 9,758 in 2011-12 to 8,562 in 2012-13, according to state education officials. The total number of suspensions, either in school or out of school, dropped 14.1 percent, from 709,596 in 2011-12 to 609,471 in 2012-13.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson named Napa Valley Unified as one of the districts making the greatest progress. The other two districts were the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Vallejo City Unified School District.
“Educators across California work hard to keep students in school and learning,” Torlakson said. “It can be a challenge to find the balance between maintaining a safe learning environment and giving young people the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. But we’re working with schools and districts throughout the state to do exactly that.”
The Napa Valley Unified School District began implementing a districtwide positive behavior intervention and support program four years ago in response to research that showed suspensions do not improve school climate and result in poor outcomes for students. These efforts have resulted in consistent drops in suspensions and expulsions from year to year, according to education officials. This past year, as noted by Torlakson, there was an 18.9 percent drop in suspensions and a 75.5 percent drop in expulsions within Napa Valley Unified.
“NVUSD made a commitment several years ago to overhaul our traditional student code of conduct and implement an effective research-based behavior program,” said Ivan Chaidez, the district’s director of alternative education. “We now have a systematic and sophisticated approach that permits more options in response to behavioral situations. We also have multiple alternative consequences that allow students opportunities to change their behavior and get right back on track so learning can continue.”
Known as “BEST,” the Positive Behavior Interventions and Support system explicitly teaches schoolwide expectations to “Be Safe, Be Respectful and Be Responsible.” Students are reinforced for positive behavior and are taught expectations when they make behavioral errors.
Statewide, “student defiance” is an often-reported reason for suspensions. This area also saw the largest declines. There were 259,875 suspensions statewide for defiance in 2012-13, down 81,237, or 23.8 percent, compared with the year before, according to state education officials.
Over the past four years, Napa Valley Unified has seen an 88 percent reduction in expulsions and a 57 percent reduction in suspensions — earning one of the lowest suspension rates in California. At the same time, California Healthy Kids Survey results indicate that local students are feeling safer and more cared for at school.
In a collaborative effort with the Napa County Office of Education, the Napa school district began providing a social/emotional curriculum to all K-5 teachers, which aims to increase empathy, problem solving, emotional management and bullying prevention.
“We are extremely proud that NVUSD’s goal to impact student behavior positively and increase classroom engagement is working and is being recognized statewide and nationally,” said Elena Toscano, assistant superintendent of instruction. “NVUSD has become a model school district for positive behavior interventions and support systems.”