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  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM

    Freshman D'Angelo Nieves, left, works on electrical trades homework during Academic Center for Enrichment, otherwise known as in-school suspension, on Thursday, April 19, 2012, at Nashua High School North. He was one of nearly a half-dozen students in the program Thursday morning.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM

    Principal David Ryan, left, talks with Dezron Wilson, right, and Dante Laurendi during Academic Center for Enrichment, otherwise known as in-school suspension, on Thursday, April 19, 2012, at Nashua High School North. Wilson and four other students were in the program Thursday.
Friday, April 27, 2012

In-school suspensions a ‘positive step forward,’ say administrators

NASHUA – The ACE classroom at Nashua High School North looks like any other, with a certified teacher offering help and students sitting quietly at their desks, working diligently beside a stack of paper and textbooks.

But ACE, or Academic Center for Enrichment, is different because it’s actually a form of punishment. It’s where students go to serve in-school suspension, doled out most often to students who cut class.

“It’s like a detention hall but academic in nature,” said North Principal David Ryan. “We take something kids deem as negative and turn it into a more positive experience.”

As a result, Nashua’s two public high schools – and schools throughout the district – are choosing in-school suspension far more often to keep students in a classroom environment.

At North, in-school suspension referrals jumped from 151 during the 2010-11 school year to 415 this school year, as of March 20, according to a report given to the Board of Education.

The report tracks incidences of referrals, not numbers of students, so students who are referred multiple times are counted more than once.

“Suspending a student for poor behavior and then giving him a zero doesn’t make any sense to us,” Ryan said. “I don’t believe a student’s learning should be impacted by their behavior. They still need to learn.”

Districtwide, in-school suspensions are up 91 percent, nearly double the numbers from last year. Total incidents are up 23 percent, but out-of-school suspensions, on the other hand, have dropped 8 percent compared to last year.

More students are being punished, but in a productive way, and that’s actually a “really positive step forward,” said Superintendent Mark Conrad.

“I view it in a very positive light,” Conrad said. “One of the clear priorities as a district was to re-establish the in-school suspension programs at each high school. It’s been very successful.”

The high schools had in-school suspension programs before, but they didn’t have a strong academic focus, Conrad said.

Each school now has one full-time teacher dedicated only to in-school suspension. The teacher runs class four days a week for up to 12 students and spends the fifth day coordinating with the students’ teachers to make sure they are keeping up with their work.

“It’s the first time we’ve really had the accessibility of a certified teacher working in an ISS environment,” Conrad said. “It ensures that our students, while on suspension, are supervised safely and keeping up with their work.”

Last year, assistant principals ran the program at North, but that limited its success, because those administrators have other responsibilities.

With certified teachers in the classroom all day – and sometimes spending an hour or more after school for extra student help – the program has been able to separate student behavior from academic achievement.

“Students that are typically finding themselves in trouble are now doing much better in class,” he said.

In-school suspension also provides a safe place for students, who may not always be well-supervised at home or have parents who are put in difficult positions during a student’s suspension, Conrad said.

With a more structured program in place, Nashua High School South had its in-school suspensions increase to 144 this year, compared to just three last year.

“We wanted to build that academic piece with in-school suspension so in there they’re working with a certified teacher on their schoolwork,” said South Principal Jennifer Seusing. “The value we see is that it keeps students in school that we believe we can successfully work with. We’re finding it successful, but it’s still very new, and we will constantly assess as we go.”

Most students who receive in-school suspension are truant students, Seusing said. It didn’t make any sense to continue sending those students home as punishment for not coming to school, she said.

“Students would rather look bad than look stupid,” she said. “They get kicked out of class because they’re frustrated with learning.”

At the middle and elementary schools, both in-school and out-of-school suspensions increased over the past year.

Fairgrounds and Ledge Street had the most suspensions of the elementary schools, with 41 and 27 total, respectively. However, Ledge Street had more balance, with 13 in-school and 14 out-of-school suspensions, while most of the suspensions at Fairgrounds, 38 of the 41, were out-of-school.

Pennichuck and Elm Street middle schools had significantly more suspensions this year, 371 and 329, than Fairgrounds Middle School, which had 134.

The numbers aren’t as revealing at those levels, Conrad said, due to the nature of a certain class of students or changes in administration and environment from year to year.

“You have to be careful about not drawing conclusions that establish a trend,” he said.

The middle and elementary schools don’t have the luxury of a full-time teacher teaching in-school suspension, but Conrad said the district has developed a partnership with the Nashua Youth Council to provide an off-site suspension center that has similar goals to the in-school suspension programs at the high school.

That has made a positive impact, Conrad said, as representatives work with families one-on-one to resolve issues or talk about a student’s needs.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).