The one year anniversary of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the recent tragedy in Colorado were sobering moments of reflection for schools. Around the nation school districts are reviewing what they are doing to keep their students safe and making improvements to security measures on campuses.

At the Woodburn School District we’ve been looking at safety enhancements that might be needed at our schools. Some of these changes likely will be a component of the bond renewal package that is being developed for the May 2014 Primary Election.

While most shootings are related to mental illness, bullying and harassment in schools are considered precursors to some anti-social behaviors. Like many school districts, Woodburn is working to reduce the number of these incidents on campus — and we have good progress to report back to you. In the recent “Oregon Student Wellness Survey of 2012,” the Woodburn School District’s numbers in the section on bullying and harassment are comparatively positive to state averages.

Changing the climate in schools is an important first step to reducing incidents of bullying and harassment. Our schools have implemented a program called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) that has shown great success in reducing the number of disciplinary actions in the three years since it started. PBIS helps to increase student safety, decrease problem behaviors and establish a positive school climate for academic achievement. At the beginning of the year, expectations for safe, responsible and respectful behaviors are made clear to students. Throughout the year, all district staff and students participate in teaching and reinforcing positive behavior on campus.

PBIS has been effective at reducing the need for disciplinary action and incidents of bullying and harassing behavior. Our positive numbers in the “Oregon Student Wellness Survey of 2012” are a credit to the dedication of our staff and the commitment of our students to the PBIS program. And while the numbers are encouraging, we recognize that there can be room for improvement, particularly when it comes to transparency and reporting.

That’s why the Woodburn School Board has asked the district to measure the levels of bullying and harassment at all grade levels. The district has developed a four-step plan that would bring transparency to the reporting of incidents and raise awareness in the community.

The first step was to develop a district-wide data template for school administrators and counselors to track student and parent reporting of incidents. The next step will be to use the data template to collect reports of bullying and harassment at all schools. The third step will be to survey parents and students at select grade-levels during spring conferences. The final step is the ongoing review of the data collected from the new reporting system, discipline reports and surveys so that a baseline is created and progress can be monitored.

For our students to achieve academically, we must provide a safe learning environment for them to succeed. Understanding the need in our schools, fostering positive behavior, being transparent to our community and increasing security measures are all part of this formula.

From all of us at the Woodburn School District, we wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a safe, happy and healthy New Year.

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