GALVESTON — Upon their return to Ball High School Aug. 18, students may think they’ve walked into a parallel universe.
Teachers will be in the hall to cheerfully greet them. Instead of 12 unarmed police officers patrolling the campus, only three will keep the peace. Disrespectful or disruptive behaviors that might have landed students in the principal’s office last year aren’t as likely to push the same buttons or get the same reaction this year.
The days of swats are over at the Galveston Independent School District. Last week, the district announced the end of corporal punishment at Ball High. And gradually, students will be introduced to an intense program meant to help them become more successful at school and in life by learning the ABCs of minding their Ps and Qs.
Who’s In Charge?
In a high school with 2,500 students, which last year documented 11,500 incidents of discipline problems and 737 arrests, the reduction of police officers and a kinder, gentler administration may sound like a risky social experiment. But Lynn Hale, who in February came out of retirement to become Galveston ISD’s first female superintendent of schools, sees the changes as a matter of trust and a major shift in the way the district will manage discipline problems.
A heavy presence of uniformed officers — Ball High has a bigger police presence than some small cities in the county — sends the wrong message, Hale, 64, said.
“It says that the police are in charge rather than teachers and the assistant principals,” she said. “So it can make everyone dependent on the police.”
Officers still will handle major infractions, she said. But they play a diminished role in Hale’s vision for the district, one that includes fewer students being sent to the office, fewer arrests, fewer citations, less truancy and a significant rise in academic performance. Her vision also includes a day when the majority of students politely resolve problems, shake hands when they introduce themselves, look adults in the eye when addressing them and resist peer pressure, among other social skills. Hale has arranged for training this summer for teachers at L.A. Morgan, Rosenberg and San Jacinto elementary schools, as well as for Ball High School educators. With changes at the elementary and middle school levels, Hale expects the day to arrive that Ball High School teachers are dealing with curriculum, not behavior.
“We have a long way to go, but each year, they’ll see better behavior,” Hale said. For some who have walked the halls of Ball High before, Hale’s vision sounds ambitious.
But what Hale asks of school employees and students, she usually gets, say those who have worked with her at other Texas schools. While one social skill students will learn this year is accepting “no” for an answer, it’s a skill Hale hasn’t seemed to grasp.
“She’s demanding, but it’s always in an effort to try to do what’s right for the kids in the community she’s serving,” said David Hicks, superintendent at the 11,400-student Deer Park Independent School District. Hale was superintendent at that district from 1987 to 1993. He said he remembers a day that, for him, pretty well sums up Hale’s management style.
“It was early part of the school year, maybe October, and she came in one day when I was assistant superintendent and said we would have an alternative high school to address the dropout problem,” Hicks said. “It was something we badly needed. She said we would begin working on it right away. I guess I assumed she meant we would open it the next school year. Then Lynn said we would open it in January, and I think we all kind of dropped our jaws.”
Hicks and other district employees weren’t sure the deadline could be met. But it was. Hale didn’t want the alternative school to be a “dumping ground” for problem students. She envisioned a place where students who worked to support their families could finish school at an accelerated pace or where teenage parents could find some flexibility. There are as many reasons students need the program as there are students attending alternative school, Hicks said. Deer Park now has one of the premier alternative schools, with 25 percent of its high school students receiving some type of service from it, he said.
“It was a legacy that Lynn left in Deer Park,” he said.
When most people talk about Lynn Hale, they talk about drive and stubborn persistence, openness and an ability to gain the trust and admiration of even the toughest crowds.
Drive is a trait that Hale, who grew up in Deer Park, learned at an early age. One of her earliest memories is of her father, Albert Urban, taking her to school on her first day.
“He said, ‘This is the first day of your education and on your last day you’re going to be valedictorian.” Hale, in fact, graduated high school in 1956 as valedictorian. It was a shining moment for Urban, who was an instrument repairman for Exxon, and whose education didn’t go beyond seventh grade.
“He was the smartest man I’d ever known,” Hale said. “It was never a question of if I go to college, it was a question of where.”
Hale’s mother, Nell Urban, was a successful artist. Sam Houston State University was the school of Hale’s choice. In the middle of her sophomore year, she fell in love and married. Money was tight for the young couple. By the time she was 25, she had six children, including twins. Resolved to get her degree, she secured a school loan and returned to the university. Between motherhood and studies, she managed about two to three hours of sleep a night. Hale graduated in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State. She went on to earn a master’s degree in elementary education with a minor in special education from the same university in 1972.
Rising To The Top
While earning her master’s, she began teaching first and fourth grade at Hidden Valley Elementary School in Aldine ISD in 1969. Wherever Hale went, it didn’t take long for her to earn more responsibility and higher positions.
After leaving Aldine, she went on to become executive director of special education in Spring Branch and later director for instruction at Region IV Education Service Center.
In Deer Park, where she was superintendent from 1987 to 1993, Hale served on the Commissioner of Education’s committee to restructure the Texas Education Agency. While there, she also guided the district through a $22.5 million loss in funds that came from House Bill 351, legislation that allowed for the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthier districts to poorer schools. She enlisted about 300 community members and district staff in developing a budget that reflected a $3 million reduction, according to reports. Also, while she was superintendent in Deer Park, the district passed a $63 million bond election.
When Hale took the superintendent position at Arlington ISD in 1993, she walked into a situation where the community already had lost confidence in the school district.
“When she came to Arlington, we had just suffered our biggest defeat,” said Charlene Robertson, director of public information, who worked directly for Hale. The district had lost a fight to change the tax cap, which at $1.20 per $100 assessed valuation was one of the lowest in the state. The district was trying to raise it to $1.50 and had lost elections several times.
“Our community said ‘No,’” Roberston said. “We were shocked. We had to cut a third of our budget and lay off a bunch of people.”
Arlington ISD saw Hale as a change agent, Robertson said. “She restored the community confidence in our school district,” Robertson said. “She told the public the way things were and how they were going to fix it. There was no second-guessing, no waffling. She’s direct and very candid and people trusted and believed in her.”
Going To Town
Before Hale retired, the district was able to get the tax cap raised to $1.35. Arlington ISD’s tax cap is now $1.50. But Hale also will be remembered for addressing discipline problems. She implemented the Girls & Boys Town Education Model — the same model on which 200 teachers from throughout the Galveston district trained this summer and the same one students are going to learn about quickly this year. The idea is to get students to change their behaviors through ongoing reinforcement.
But for that, teachers are going to have to change the way they respond to, say, a sarcastic remark or rowdy behavior. Tolerance levels will have to change. The old temptation of sending misbehaving students to the office is less of an option.
In the model, teachers use a “proactive, positive approach to discipline rather than a reactive and punitive approach,” district officials say. It also teaches students social skills.
‘Best They Have’
The idea is to cut down on classroom disruptions, and focus on teaching. If students are behaving badly in class, a teacher might be tempted to give them what’s known as the “teacher look” or, through emotion, allow the situation to escalate, said Eleanor Wright, staff development specialist at Arlington ISD, who also is a specialist in Boys Town curriculum.
Through praise and positive reinforcement, and a series of steps, students can learn the right behavior and teachers can keep the student in the classroom, Wright said.
While some social skills seem basic, some students never learn them at home. “The parents send us the best they have,” she said. “They love their children and want them to be successful.”
Beginning this year, students will begin learning how to follow directions by looking at the person, saying “OK” and doing what they’ve been asked right away. They’ll learn to raise their hands and stay calm in the classroom or use a pleasant voice when speaking and they’ll learn the increasingly obscure skill of greeting someone. Teachers will go through a series of steps to teach the proper social skill if someone misbehaves.
What’s the correct way of greeting someone according to the Boys & Girls Town model? “Whenever you greet someone, you should look at the person, smile and with a pleasant voice say something like, ‘Good morning!’ It’s best to use the other person’s name when you know it,” according to Boys Town teaching materials.
While some may think that sounds a little corny, or that manners are the least of the problems in a school with such high incidence of arrests, the Boys Town model is increasingly being used in campuses across the nation. Supporters of the program say research shows students’ time spent on tasks increases by up to 20 percent within two years of implementation and teachers spend less time dealing with disruptive behavior. Students also reported getting along better with other students, teachers and their parents, also according to supporters.
Training for Galveston teachers began June 6, and next summer, training will expand to include more campuses. Future plans call for training the entire staff, from bus drivers to cafeteria workers and custodians.
‘50 Percent Drop’
Teachers also are being asked to understand the environment from which some children come. Some never hear praise, and for some to even make it to school is a praiseworthy feat. Before academics can be improved, behavior problems, which Hale calls systemic at Galveston ISD, have to be treated.
In some Arlington schools, students are taught a social skill over the intercom system and practice that skill all week. All school staff members are encouraged to practice skills with students. The program has made a noticeable difference at the Arlington school district, Lancaster said. “There was a 50 percent drop in disciplinary referrals,” he said.
Without basic social skills, students are going to find life after graduation tough. “Today’s society demands a lot to be successful,” Hale said.
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