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WUSD Governing Board approves plan to address behavioral issues at WEMS

A temporary solution was found for the behavioral issues at WEMS. (Photo/WGCN)

A temporary solution was found for the behavioral issues at WEMS. (Photo/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — After hearing about extreme student behavioral problems at Williams Elementary-Middle School (WEMS), the Williams Unified School District Government Board approved a plan to address the issue at their Nov. 3 meeting.

Several WEMS teachers had previously addressed the governing board about the unprecedented behaviors they were experiencing.

“Based on what last year’s second-grade teachers told me, I knew this year was going to be a rough year,” third grade teacher Patti Jackson previously told the board. “I had no idea how rough.”

After several months of planning, WUSD staff and teachers created a program they feel will address the problems.

WUSD staff presented a plan to the governing board that included hiring a behavioral specialist and designate a behavioral recovery room for students.

The board approved creating a room the would serve as a place for children to calm down and reset after outbursts or other extreme behavior. It would be a temporary solution for teachers as they work toward hiring a behavioral specialist.

“The ultimate goal here is goal A: the child can self-regulate and start learning how to do that more often, " said WUSD Superintendent Eric Evans. "And then goal B is we ultimately want to send them back to their regular classroom with their peers.”

Evans added that in the past the governing board worked to reshape the approach toward student behavioral issues with stricture punitive solutions. However, Evans said that approach is not always appropriate.

“For some kids, that does have to be the answer,” Evans said. “Engaging in those activities where it causes harm to oneself or to others, that’s where we use the long term suspension route and the hearings.”

Evans hopes to correct the behavioral issues as early as possible, adding that addressing this at a younger age results in better growth.

“The Nest (behavioral room) is a way to see if this concept can work, and it’s a last chance for kids to try to reset and get it right before we say it’s time for a hearing," Evans said. “I think it has to be a start for us.”

WUSD Vice President Carla Dent expressed concerns about the behavioral recovery room. Dent said only a few children should be in the room at a time, and she also was concerned about making the recovery room widely available to K-8 because of the age and development differences between the grades.

“I think if we say it’s only K-5, then we’re really doing our middle schoolers a disservice who do need some types of downtime," WEMS Principal Janette Bressler responded. "I’d hate to make an age limit on it and not be able to use it.”

WEMS Assistant Principal Andrew Wollman explained the room would have different zones set up for the older kids as well as younger ones.

Dent was also concerned that the room could be seen as a softer approach to the behavioral problem.

“Looking at the kids going in (to the recovery room), it’s all happy, they’re comfortable there, they’re going to continuously want to go there,” Dent said.

WEMS Counselor Bailee Cameron disagreed and noted that many of the kids are from hard backgrounds and don’t have the skills necessary to calm themselves. She said that before discipline, this could be an effective step to coach students on how to address their emotions. She added that each child’s behavior would be evaluated before the intake into the recovery room to avoid unnecessary visits.

“In the short term, this restorative room is a place to coach the students,” Wollman said. “But when discipline is needed, that will be administered.”

To assist in keeping track of students’ behavior, WEMS staff provided the governing board with intake forms that will be used for the recovery room. The intake forms were created in hopes of further understanding each student’s situation, finding behavioral patterns, and making sure to avoid unneeded visits.

The recovery room is part one of a three phase plan. After the opening of the first recovery room, two extra rooms could be implemented, one for middle schoolers and one for elementary students - for children who need more discipline. Phase three involves a highly-trained, certified behavioral specialist who will oversee the entire behavioral program. If children are not self-regulating in the phase two recovery room, the next step is to work with the specialist one-on-one.

The governing board approved the WEMS staff’s three-tier proposal with the recovery space being implemented first. The district expects the program to begin at the beginning of 2024.

The board requested monthly reports of the recovery room to stay updated on student progress.

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