Deans added to Fort Smith high schools to help with ‘disciplinary actions,’ teacher support

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,309 views 

In an effort to more effectively ensure discipline and help teachers and students get what they need in the classroom, the Fort Smith Public School District has added new administrative levels at the high schools.

When the school year started this semester, Northside High School and Southside High School had a dean roaming the hallways.

“These positions will be used to process disciplinary actions primarily for students at the high schools, which will free up time for our assistant principals for other duties,” Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski told the FSPS Board of Education members during a school board meeting July 17. “This position is relatively common in other districts to assist in the administration of the campus. We discussed with the board recently ways to increase security and also to better manage discipline at our campuses, so this is just one way that we hope to do that.”

The district hired from within naming Ben Goode, a former social studies teacher, as the dean at Northside High School and Justin Fontenot, another former social studies teacher, as the dean at Southside High School. Long-term substitutes have been hired to temporarily fill the two vacant social studies positions at the high schools.

“They’ve both been in the district for over 10 years. They know the clientele pretty well. They have relationships with the students already,” said Dr. Tony Jones, director of secondary education.

With 2,350 students at Northside this semester and 1,850 students at Southside, district officials thought it would be a good idea to have more help with discipline. Assistant principals have traditionally been more of a disciplinary position than an instructional leader. If students are not making it to school on time or not attending school, the assistant principals dealt with it, Jones said. But over the last 20 years or so in education, Jones said, assistant principals have become as much instructional leaders as they are disciplinarians.

Larger numbers of students means more time spent on discipline, so district administration decided help was needed.

“Northside and Southside have a lot more students, so there is going to be more volume of discipline that is going to occur,” Jones said. “Just the sheer volume of kids, even if 5% of those kids are not doing what they are supposed to, it’s still quite a few. For the assistant principals to be pulled in that many directions while there is also the expectation that they are going to be in the classrooms all the time. We didn’t see how that was going to be a possibility.”

The new deans will alleviate some of the pressure on assistant principals because they will deal with level one discipline, Jones said. Level one discipline issues are those that don’t require a suspension, including tardiness, absences, minor things that occur in the classroom like a student not picking his head up off the desk, and other things like that, Jones explained.

“Things that have not escalated to where a licensed administrator needs to deal with it,” he said. “The response I’ve gotten so far has been nothing but praise, nothing but thumbs up because the schools are so big, not just population but in the size of the campus, and when you are dealing with the age group 14-18, sometimes you are not going to get the best decision making every day.”

For the first week of school, the deans were tasked with being seen – being in the hallways, building a relationship with students.

“I told them to check the bathrooms, learn the lay of the land, learn where students are going to be when they think no one is looking,” Jones said.

Because the dean positions are district-wide, they can be used at any campus in the district even though they are housed out of the high schools. If a junior high has a higher disciplinary need, a dean can be moved there, Jones said. They also are being trained to deal with disciplinary needs in ways that will deescalate whatever situations arise, Jones said.

FSPS uses the “Capturing Kids Hearts” discipline model, which focuses mainly on identifying what the student is doing, what they should be doing and trying to support the students on different techniques to get to what they should be doing. With the deans trained in disciplinary actions and taking some of the burden off the assistant principals, those assistant principals are allowed to be more in the classroom.

“This in theory is how we improve our test scores. By giving our teachers more support, it should enhance student learning and should have students performing better at the end of the year, theoretically,” Jones said.

As a school district, FSPS is trying to reach what is called the “High Reliability School” (HRS) status, he said.

“We are using the High Reliability School Model. It ensures that you have systems in place. The systems that we worked on last year was to make sure the schools were safe and collaborative,” Jones said. “This year it’s more about effective teaching in every classroom. We make sure everybody is safe first, everybody has a voice. Now we are trying to make sure the kids and the teachers are getting what they need in their instructional services.”

With the deans taking over some of the disciplinary responsibilities, the assistant principals are going into the classrooms to support teachers and identify areas of growth.

“Every teacher has something to work on. (The) assistant principal is going to go in, identify some areas they see that the teachers can grow.” Jones said, noting that all assistant principals were once teachers. “Maybe it’s a first year teacher and a lot of first-year teachers struggle with classroom management. … The assistant principals can use veteran teacher eyes and be able to support those teachers struggling in whatever area that is.”

All FSPS campuses are certified HRS Level 1, Jones said. By March 1, 2025, all campuses will be certified HRS Level 2.