Suspensions are down at James M. Singleton Charter School, a change that principal Debra Robertson credits to a school-wide effort to reward positive behavior, rather than focus on punishment.

The 29 suspensions so far this year compare to 34 at this time last year. The difference — five suspensions — may not seem like a lot, but Robertson and directors of the Dryades Y/James M. Singleton Charter School Board — call it a step in the right direction.

“Is it a cultural change?” board member Mary Joseph wanted to know at the school’s board meeting, Monday afternoon. Robertson answered that student culture has indeed improved, thanks at least in part to the changed approach to student discipline.

In addition to inaugurating an anti-bullying week and a motivational week, the school has adopted a program called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), Robertson said.

For good behavior, students on a weekly basis are awarded “Singleton bucks,” which they can use in a PBIS store in the school. Before, she added, the students got the rewards at the end of the month. Shortening the time between reinforcement and reward has made a big difference, Robertson said.

“It makes it more satisfying,” Robertson said, adding that more communication between staff and students also reduced suspensions.

She said teachers were using separate rooms for kids with behavioral problems, giving students who act out time to be quiet and “get themselves together.”

Robertson added that students have four opportunities to correct bad behavior before suspension.

In other news, officials announced that the school band made more than $4,000 from participation in Carnival parades, money that will be used for new uniforms.

Board member James Singleton said he was impressed with the band after hearing them at a City Council event. Singleton served on the New Orleans City Council for many years.

“It’s amazing to me how far he’s come with these kids,” Singleton said in a salute to the band coach.

Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative...