PAISD targets student discipline

Published 8:29 pm Thursday, July 30, 2015

District aims to bridge gap between teacher, parent expectations

Superintendent Mark Porterie said the Port Arthur Independent School District has been “too tolerant” of distracting, disruptive and disrespectful student behavior in the past. The district has “taken so much” abuse from its pupils, he said, that he knows it’s going to take something drastic to make a lasting change.

The PAISD board of trustees took the first step toward that change last month by creating a dean of discipline position at Memorial High School. The board filled that position last week, hiring Orion Carr — a former Beaumont ISD assistant principal — to take charge of facilitating parent-teacher relationships and enforcing a campus-wide discipline plan for the 2015-16 school year.

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But Porterie said one staff change at the high school will not improve student discipline throughout the district. It’s imperative the district make its expectations clear early on, he said, so all students — and their parents — know what is expected of them when they return from summer break.

In the first of two scheduled community conversations targeting student discipline expectations Thursday night, Porterie said the district is prepared to move forward as soon as Aug. 24 — but the campus administrators and teachers can’t do it alone.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we do know it’s going to take the school and the home working together to make our children successful,” Porterie said in the Memorial High School auditorium Thursday. “We need help from the home to make this work for our students.”

Porterie said he needs to see more parental involvement, because too many students are coming to school angry and going home to do without.

“Parents, all we ask is you send us a happy child. Send them off to us with a hug and a kiss and say, ‘Listen to your teachers.’ You will not believe how many of our children are waking up on their own, taking care of siblings because momma is not there or will not wake up to get her kids ready for school. You have no idea how many of our students wake up and go to bed with cussing, screaming, hollering, drugs going on inside the house.

“When you don’t know where your mother is, when you haven’t eaten in over 24 hours, when you don’t have anywhere to sleep — it’s not their fault. Some of our students are really angry. And they have a reason to be angry. We have a large percentage of our students that are homeless. They’re couch surfing, sleeping on other people’s sofas because they don’t have a home to go to. We have to deal with that, and not all the time is suspension the answer. Sometimes we have to get at the root of the problem.”

A handful of parents took seats in the auditorium among the district employees and voiced their own concerns. A pair of mothers agreed they felt there could be an “abuse of authority” on the teachers’ part when their students didn’t follow orders on the first or second try. A few lamented a lack of communication and opportunities to meet with their children’s teachers in a non-combative setting.

Porterie said the district expects professionalism and communications from both sides of the fence, parents and teachers. The partnership has to be a “two-way street,” he said.

“Teachers are receptive if there’s a relationship. And we want those relationships, because we want your help,” Porterie said. “We want to be on the same page. We want to work as a team. Because we’re all working for the same purpose — a successful child. But we need help.”

Carr, who doesn’t officially start his post as MHS dean of discipline until Monday, came to the first community conversation to introduce himself and begin establishing those expectations.

“This is something I feel like I’m gifted to do,” Carr said. “As an assistant principal, I dealt with these issues a lot — it’s about bringing the parents and teachers together, working as a team, and seeing that both sides have the same goal. We want more parent involvement. We really need our parents to come interact with the teachers and interact with their students to see what’s going on in the school, in each class, with each teacher.

“And we need our teachers involved, making those points of contact — building that relationship with the parent before there’s ever a problem. We believe our students can do anything they set their minds to. But they have to come in and be respectful. It’s my job to create an atmosphere where a teacher can teach and a student can learn. We have to be consistent with our discipline.”

The next community conversation targeting student discipline is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 11 in the William B. Travis Elementary School cafeteria. Porterie and Carr urged parents to attend and participate in the upcoming discussion.

Twitter: @crhenderson90