A report on escalated fighting at Cutler Bay Middle School lit a fire under administrators and the town council.
Now the school is attempting to improve on the 41 percent increase in reports of fighting at the school, in the 2012 and 2013 school years, with a positive behavior system.
Mayor Peggy Bell served as “Principal for the Day” at the school on Nov. 19.
“I accepted this offer from Principal (Paul) Pfeiffer specifically because I felt a need to provide whatever support I could to the school’s efforts to improve,” Bell said. “I wanted to see first hand how things were going there.”
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“There seemed to be a positive attitude, a renewed enthusiasm for the school,” Bell said. “I spoke to the criminal justice academy students, a great group of students with plans for their future. I was surprised with an impromptu concert by students in the new music program, recently reinstated after many years, by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, when he came to our special town council workshop to speak on this issue. During this meeting he presented the school action plan.”
The school’s action plan for 2014 included: an additional assistant principal position, a full-time positive behavior support coach, which provides incentives for students exhibiting positive behavior, a full-time security monitor and two hourly security monitors, and parental support through a series of parent nights focusing in areas of FSA testing, code of student conduct, parenting strategies and schoolwide discipline.
The total cost of the additional support personnel was about $200,000.
This year, the action plan includes biweekly parent-teacher conferences, monthly parent workshops, a project on nonviolence, student crime watch, and self esteem counseling for 200 students on Wednesdays.
The school, 19400 Gulfstream Rd., will provide support and training to teachers, an hourly positive behavior support person to assist with PBS initiatives, a full-time trust counselor to provide counseling to students experiencing emotional hardship, a visitor access platform to screen visitors on campus, and positive culture building programs for teachers, staff and community.
The total cost for two years of support is about $322,000.
At the council’s last meeting, $5,000 in grant funding out of a requested $8,000 to support the system of reinforcing positive behavior through a system of rewards.
“They do a lot of interventions for mediation between students,” Town Manager Ralph Casals said. “Before something escalates they get involved and provide coins that the kids get rewarded based on their positive behavior. With those coins, they can get any type of trinkets, wristbands, school supplies and/or snacks and lunch.”
Casals said the council did not recommend 100 percent funding so that it could “challenge [the school] to raise the remaining money through any type of outside donations.”
“We saw that as something we could do,” Casals said. “It’s a small little item, but after talking to the principal and the teachers that are involved, my recommendation to the council was: I think it’s money well spent because it’s going to indirectly or directly reduce any type of altercation, particularly if you have folks that are almost like mediators between students.”
Cutler Bay Academy of Advanced Studies, Cutler Ridge Campus, received a grade of D for both the 2013 and 2014 school years, according to the Florida Department of Education.
According to the state, the school had 111 fighting reports during the 2012-2013 school year compared to 188 in 2013-2014. The school had an enrollment of about 1,180 students last year.
Positive behavior support has been used in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 10 years. A 900 square-foot trailer has been assigned as the PBS Lounge at Cutler Bay’s campus. Teachers are given the PBS bucks that they are allowed to give to students that show positive behavior over the course of a week. Students are also given PBS passes, which allow them to eat lunch in the lounge, where they can access conformable seating, music and movies.