Perth Amboy Students Behaved Better, According to New Numbers

July 17, 2012

PERTH AMBOY — For years, there was a vicious cycle of bad behavior in the public schools, say officials. A problematic student would get suspended for 10 days, then come back and promptly be suspended again. They would be out of school for extended periods, without ever fully settling back into the classroom.

But a new policy of keeping students in school, getting them counseling, teaching them, and working with both the students and the police present in the school to limit behavior problems - instead of just supending them ? is working, according to numbers released today by the district and the Perth Amboy Police Department.

“It was almost a game of insanity before – you keep doing the same thing, and you expect different results,” said Kurt Rebovich, the chair of the board of education’s discipline committee. “Now, rather than just putting a student out of school, you work with them.”

Violence and vandalism incidents in the 2011-2012 school year were cut in half from the year before, from 71 to 36, by the numbers. Behavior that stopped classroom learning was cut by 40 percent, according to teacher-reported incidents. Some officials say these improvements were generated by the plummeting suspension rates - cut to a tenth of what they were from the year before in the high school (from 39 percent down to 3.4 percent), and just to a sixth of what they were in the middle school (from 12 percent to 2.7 percent).

“If you just throw a kid out every time he does something wrong, they don’t learn anything,” said Janine Walker Caffrey, the district’s superintendent. “It’s in the community’s best interest that students stay in school – instead of being out on the streets.”

The new, work-with-students-first policy was put together by the school board’s disclipline committee at the beginning of the school year, in conjunction with Caffrey, according to Rebovich.

“We’re very happy — all our hard work paid off,” Rebovich said. “At the end of the day, we’re all human — it’s a learning process for everyone.

Not all the board members are celebrating the numbers. Israel Varela, another board member, said he remains suspicious of whether the numbers really reflected the behavioral situation within classrooms.

“It looks impressive — but is it true?” Varela said.

Varela said he was suspicious of whether the lower suspension numbers would benefit Caffrey, whose contract stipulates a bonus for improved behavioral performance in the schools. Caffrey said the bonus in her state-regulated contract would kick in only if another condition is met — that 90 percent of the freshman class from last year return as sophomores this year. She said that number won’t be determined until a few weeks into the school year in September.

“That’s why this data is so important,” she said. “I make decisions based on data — not on rumor and innuendo.”

Caffrey and some members of the boards have been at odds in recent months, with several votes opposing her continuing performance.

At Wednesday night’s regular school board meeting, the behavioral numbers will be presented publicly — and there is also a superintendent evaluation scheduled, which will be the first of its kind in Perth Amboy.