Two Evanston schools are ‘exemplars’ of student behavior program

Ciara McCarthy, Reporter

Two Evanston elementary schools have achieved “exemplar” status from Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports Illinois, a state initiative that works to improve student behavior through positive reinforcement.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 announced Sept. 18 that Dewey Elementary School, 1551 Wesley Ave., and Washington Elementary School, 914 Ashland Ave., are two of five Illinois schools to have achieved this status. All District 65 schools have implemented the PBIS program, according to a district news release. More than 1,000 schools participate in the PBIS program in Illinois.

This is the second year in a row that Dewey Elementary School has achieved exemplar status.

PBIS Illinois is an initiative funded by the Illinois State Board of Education, according to its website. The initiative, part of the Illinois Statewide Technical Assistance Center (IS-TAC), provides a system for schools to handle misbehavior and to encourage good behavior.

Well-behaved students allow for a better learning environment, said Pat Markham, the District 65 communications director. She added that misbehavior creates a distraction in the classroom, and that because PBIS provides strategies for correcting student conduct, it helps create more productive classrooms.

“PBIS helps improve school culture and climate with the understanding that students who are engaged can concentrate and spend more time pursuing their academics,” Markham said.

PBIS Illinois provides a framework that individual schools adapt to create and implement a system to address behavioral issues at three levels: school-wide, group, and individual.

At Dewey Elementary School, kindergarten teacher Staci Gold chairs the PBIS committee. Gold said her committee promotes four positive behavior principles called the “Dewey Do’s.” Washington Elementary School has a similar set of principles titled the “Washington Ways.”

Essentially, PBIS helps teachers instruct students to follow these principles. Weekly “cool tools” teach lessons such as raising one’s hand in class or being respectful in the hallway. The program also includes incentives that allow students to earn rewards for their good behavior. Most schools use a ticket system, in which students are awarded vouchers when they behave well. For example, a student could earn tickets for being respectful in line, and then use those tickets to gain a reward, such as extra recess time.

Another component of the PBIS system is the Office Discipline Referral software, which logs rule infractions into an online database system that tracks behavioral data and allows teachers to recognize trends. With this information, teachers can address specific behavior issues in their classrooms.

PBIS grants schools levels of recognition ranging from emerging to exemplar, depending on how fully a school has implemented the program.

Dewey and Washington Elementary Schools earned exemplar status through a variety of components, including staff surveys, data, the success of implementation, and interviews conducted by the PBIS Illinois staff.

Gold, who has been teaching at Dewey Elementary School for six years, said the PBIS system makes the classroom a more inviting place.

“It’s a great way to set the tone of success and have the kids feel really great about themselves and the choices they’re making,” she said. “It’s such a great feeling to reward a kid who’s making good choices.”