When Pam Mustain arrived at Kaiser Elementary School nine years ago, the experienced principal had a discipline problem.
“My first year at Kaiser, I probably had five suspensions a month, at least, and now I might have 10 for a whole year,” Mustain said. “We truly believe we need to keep their little tails in school. They need to be here with us.”
The transformation at Mustain's school is partially because of her unique approach to discipline, which includes a committee of teachers to deal out punishment for the occasional misbehavior.
Mustain attributes the other part of the transformation to a teacher training program known as Great Expectations.
Across the Oklahoma City School District, data shows that the 28 schools using Great Expectations training saw a significant reduction in the number of suspensions and discipline referrals when comparing the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.
The 26 schools that weren't using Great Expectations had an increase in the number of suspensions and discipline problems.
Oklahoma City School District Superintendent Karl Springer said the district is in the process of rolling out Great Expectations at the remaining schools.
The program emphasizes mutual respect between teachers and students and eight behavior expectations, such as using good manners, being virtuous and valuing, cheering, helping, recognizing and encouraging one another.
“We talk about the consequences,” Mustain said. “We want the kids to understand that we are all there to make them feel safe. We are all there to protect them and take care of them.”
Mustain said she doesn't view her primary responsibility as that of a disciplinarian. Rather she has empowered each teacher to make their own decisions about timeouts and referrals to the five-teacher discipline committee.
“If it is a huge incident, then I need to be there and have their back, but I usually don't take care of disciplines,” Mustain said. “I'm here to be an instructional leader.”
So while the committee of teachers will meet with a student and a parent to decide what the best punishment for their misbehavior is — cleaning a classroom, community service, time out or suspension — Mustain makes sure students are learning how to read and write.
“Our kids are wonderful,” Mustain said. “We have kids that move from out of district or another school, and it takes about two weeks for them to understand. The teachers are talking to them about their choices all the time.”