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After bad marks, leaders hope to change the culture of South Bend schools

After bad marks, leaders hope to change the culture of South Bend schools. // WSBT 22 photo

The South Bend Community School Corporation has a big job ahead: fixing what some say is broken. The Indiana Department of Education gave 13 schools in the district a failing grade, but leaders are ready to change that.

District leaders are concentrating on improving learning environments with a system called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. It's a way to change the culture at each school to help kids excel.

WSBT 22 visited a school that says this program has already made an impact.

Students there are rewarded for good behavior with sweet treats. At Marshall Intermediate Center it's a part of creating an environment of expectations. If you act accordingly you'll get rewarded.

Principal Tiana Batiste-Waddell says it's just one way to create a better learning culture.

"Any school that is struggling academically, again it sends a red flag that the school culture and climate is not conducive of an environment that kids can learn in,” Batiste-Waddell said.

She says some students come to school with barriers already in place.

"It's all about the background of our students. We are an urban setting ,so we do have students that are impoverished. They do not have resources,” Batiste-Waddell said.

SBCSC Superintendent Ken Spells says 70 percent of the students in the district are at or below the poverty line.

"I grew up in poverty, and I know that you can be successful, and I know failure is not an option,” Spells said.

Marshall has changed the way students are disciplined

"We have to come up with alternative ways to deal with conflict and to support the students so that they're able to stay in that space, feel safe and continue to learn,” Batiste-Waddell said.

"We're having conversations with our principals. We are having conversations with the community. What things can we do to keep students in school?" Spells aid.

Marshall Intermediate has seen suspension and expulsion rates drop this year. The first semester, 21 percent of all suspensions were due to fighting. Now it's down to 18 percent.

Batiste-Waddell expects those numbers will continue to fall.

"Kids have to know you care for them, and they have to trust you,” she said. “And so if you're consistent with those two things, then kids are more likely to respond to you and work for you in the classroom.”

Spells says he is conducting a district autopsy. It should be done in June.

It will look at every school and see what other issues they need to address. He says he won't be satisfied with the state of the district until the graduation rate is 100 percent.

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