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Behavioral Specialists Aim to Help Students Curb Referrals, Improve Test Scores

Jill Ament

A new district wide program at Waco ISD is utilizing behavioral specialists on campuses struggling with student behavior and discipline referrals. Overall -- district leaders are hoping this more ‘individualized’ approach will help boost STAAR scores at lower performing schools.  

On a busy day, Charles Terrell says he can rack up about 7 miles on his phone’s pedometer walking from classroom to classroom at Waco’s Tennyson Middle School.

Terrell is a behavioral specialist. He along with two others at the school make up a “behavioral support team” that specifically focuses on helping students who either have a history of behavioral problems – or might just be acting up for a day or two.  

“We go in and out of the classrooms to make sure classes are quiet and people who are having issues we pull them out to the side and try to talk with them," Terrell explained.  "Try to counsel with them a little bit, figure out what the problem is.”

Terrell says he sees his job as more about establishing a relationship and mentoring the student to prevent them from getting a referral. 

“You can be a real harsh, brass person and you don’t get the results as well as you do when you’re just building relationships with the kids," said Terrell.  "And that’s what I emphasize to the team. It’s all about the relationships because it’s the relationships at the end of the day that’s going to carry us forward.”

Tennyson is the largest middle school in the district. The campus houses over 900 6th, 7th and 8th graders. The Texas Education Agency’s accountability report shows the school Met Standards in all areas in 2013. And they earned distinctions in reading, science and post-secondary readiness. But Tennyson Principal Lisa Hall says these numbers can be deceiving. That’s because the campus is also home to ATLAS – an academy for gifted and talented students in the district. 

“When you take those scores out of the mix and you look at the remainder of the students which is about two-thirds of the population, you see some different scores,” Hall said.

And last year Hall says the school had about 2,200 behavioral referrals.  

“Teachers would write referrals, send them to the office either with the student or without the student and the assistant principal would get the referral and then dish out consequences according to the offense,” Hall said. 

Hall says most of those incidents were small things – like forgetting supplies or minor discrepancies in the school’s Code of Conduct. And with nearly 83-percent of the school’s population at an economic disadvantage -- Terrell says sometimes students miss breakfast. And that causes distractions too.

“That kid is having problems, 'Well I didn’t have a chance to eat, the bus was running late,'" Terrell said. "Then we’ll pull them out and take them to the snack machine, and say, 'Hey, you know, here’s snack for you.' Or we’ll ask one of the cafeteria workers, 'Hey this kid didn’t get a chance to eat this morning.' And a lot of time that takes care of the problem right then and there.” 

It’s an approach Hall says she likes much better. So far the number of referrals on her campus has greatly dropped compared to this time last year. At the last principal’s meeting – she says other schools were reporting less behavioral issues too. Hall says the goal of the behavioral aides is to really help increase learning time in the classroom -- which will in the long run improve struggling test scores.