As national conversation about school discipline grows, Wells Community Academy High School is taking the lead among Chicago Public Schools in reducing instances of disciplinary actions.
Led by principal Rita Raichoudhuri, EdD Urban Education Leadership ’16, Wells has achieved a 100 percent decline in out-of-school suspensions, leading to CPS’ Model School Award for the 2015-16 school year.
“It’s not so much about the individual practices themselves, it’s more about the culture of the school, where adults believe in these practices,” Raichoudhuri said. “We have transformed the mindset of adults and we will continue to do so.”
Wells utilizes a number of restorative practices to address and mitigate the effects of trauma in communities students reside. Raichoudhuri seeks to create safe spaces where students can voice the challenges in their lives and generate their own interventions and solutions to build their academic success. Peace circles are a widely-used formal technique, but Raichoudhuri stresses that even the simple act of a teacher pulling a student aside for a one-on-one conversation to address a behavioral issue is a win for the school. Rather than attacking the behavior with discipline, teachers are coached to use dialogue to identify the root causes of behavior.
Raichoudhuri leads teachers in intensive training to build these responsive actions. Teachers engage with professional readings and research, while school leaders aggressively call out teachers who claim students can’t succeed because of family or culture.
“You need to change your beliefs or you need to find a job elsewhere,” Raichoudhuri said. I’m very clear about that. We make our expectations very clear about our belief system and values, but we also equip teachers with strategies and tools to successfully practice those beliefs.”