The first day of school is the most important day of each school year. It sets the tone for the building environment and standards of behavior for students. Students should feel welcome but understand very quickly that respectful, cordial, cooperative behavior is the minimum level accepted at school.

Veteran teachers understand the importance of setting a high expectation for behavior and achievement on the first day. New teachers may need a reminder during in-service days in August.

Each day for the rest of the year, there must be consistent supervision on the part of teachers, staff and administrators to ensure that all students meet these high standards. It is reasonable and achievable to have two simple expectations for each student: Be nice and work hard.

At this point, you may be asking why are we discussing the first day of school; it is the middle of the second semester. Perhaps it is best to start at the beginning to determine where the public schools in the Clark County School District may have gone wrong.

Over the past several weeks, constant negative media attention has revealed CCSD’s poor performance in many areas. The most troublesome area for the district is the physical, mental and emotional safety of students and adults at school.

There are no valid excuses for having so many disruptive and physically violent episodes on campuses this time of year. Do not begin with blaming students or the lack of parental support. This is a complete failure from top to bottom, but it starts at the top.

Attempts to correct these conditions are feeble and long overdue. Parents should never have concerns over the safety and well-being of their children when they are at school.

Students, teachers, staff and administrators deserve much better. Present actions will do little to restore confidence in the school system. This is like putting a band-aid on a gushing wound.

A comprehensive plan to provide safe and effective learning environments must be in place before starting school this fall. A one-size-fits-all model of policies and procedures cannot be effectively implemented at various grade levels. Homework for district and building administrators begins now and continues into the summer.

Any plan should begin with simple expectations such as respect and effort. Student behavior is either respectful or it’s not. Students are either working or they are not. These two expectations can be almost universal in a school setting. And they work.

Being cordial and cooperative is respectful. Being tardy or disruptive is disrespectful. Putting forth one’s best effort is working. Avoiding assignments or refusing to engage with the teacher and other students is not working.

Corrective guidance needs to happen quickly in each instance of non-compliance. This does not mean a discipline referral is necessary every time. Quick, positive, corrective interactions show students that you care about them and want them to succeed. Educators should remind students that if they do not meet expectations, they fail as well. Success or failure is mutual.

However, there can be no tolerance of chronic aggressive or destructive behavior at the expense of others. Discipline policies and procedures must be progressive based on level of misconduct and the student’s past disciplinary record. It is not socioeconomically or racially biased to refuse to accept behavior that is not acceptable in an educational environment or polite society.

Every child has the right to a quality public education, but it is a privilege to attend a particular school. And at some point, it becomes necessary to change the delivery method and/or location of the few students who continually engage in extremely violent and disruptive behavior. This is a polite way of saying expulsion.

Effective safety and student discipline plans may restore some level of confidence with students and parents. The exodus of students and teachers from CCSD is a crisis within itself. Without ensuring safe, cordial and productive learning environments and better working conditions, students and teachers will continue to exit the district.

We must recognize our failures and accept responsibility for them. This begins with the lack of effective oversight by district leadership and the board of trustees.

So, what happened on the first day of school and the following days up to now? Did the first day fail to set the correct tone? Were high expectations for student behavior and effort accepted by students? Was there a lack of supervision and corrective guidance? Do schools lack personnel and appropriate tools to effectively monitor students? Do district policies limit the ability of administrators and teachers? Let’s find out.

Greg Wieman is a retired educator with a doctorate in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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