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Originally published May 25, 2013 at 4:11 PM | Page modified May 28, 2013 at 9:16 AM

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Guest: Rethink school discipline for students of different backgrounds

We should look at school discipline through the prism of racial proportionality and adopt strategies that are more equitable, writes guest columnist Edward Lee Vargas.

Special to The Times

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ONE thing we can do to improve schools in Washington is to take a serious look at our approach to student discipline. We should look at discipline through the prism of racial proportionality and adopt strategies that are more equitable. Such an approach would make us more successful at preventing disruptive behaviors so that all students can be successful in school.

As superintendent, my job is to implement strategies that allow the Kent School District to accomplish its mission. That mission is to “successfully prepare all students for their future.” It does not mean “some” or “select” students, it means all students.

The statement is simple, the task not, but it is imperative for our students and our community. Under the leadership of our board of directors, we have put into place a strategic plan focused on a relentless commitment to equity and excellence for all students.

Student discipline is an integral component of the school and learning environment. Disproportionate identification of minority students in discipline is a challenge for us, as it is for many districts. But our numbers are improving with fewer discipline events across all student subgroups even while holding our students to higher standards.

We have students just six hours a day, 180 days a year. The other 80 percent of their lives can and does shape their development as learners and as people. The 20 percent of the time that they are in our care is our opportunity to make a powerful difference and it’s our responsibility to do so.

During the past four years, the Kent School District has moved from a discipline model primarily focused on enforcement to a safety model focused on relationships, prevention and high standards for all.

We have a strategic plan for safe schools and high achievement, informed by more than 7,000 voices in our extraordinarily diverse community. In our diversity, we see commonality. Our families want to be involved. Our community organizations and our faith groups want to help. Our businesses want a voice in the process for workforce readiness in both skills and attitudes. And our teachers want to reach every student.

Our new program Parent Academy for Student Achievement, for example, brings vulnerable families into our schools early in their children’s education. We have a Cultural Navigators program that trains our people how to work with and work through situations where one culture’s practice is another culture’s challenge.

Our business, service and faith communities help us show students the real-world relevancy of class work. We have a Discipline Task Force creating new frameworks for discipline, behavior modification and problem avoidance. There is so much more that ranges from preschool, full-day kindergarten, advanced technology for 24/7 learning, equal access to rigor and Advanced Placement. The list goes on and on.

Our schools must remain safe and our classrooms must remain effective. The educators and many cultures represented in these innovative approaches share those goals and are helping us find solutions.

We at the Kent School District believe behavioral success is just as essential as academic success to accomplishing our mission and truly preparing all students for their future.

We are committed to the success of every child, in every way, every day.

Edward Lee Vargas is superintendent of the Kent School District.

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