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Hitting the Right Note for Student Success

Hitting the Right Note for Student Success

Kenny WIlliams

Violence. Homelessness. Discrimination. Poverty.  


It’s no secret that young people in Oakland experience trauma which negatively impacts their lives in general, and their ability to learn and graduate from high school. That’s why OUSD has adopted an evidence-based practice to become more sensitive to the needs of Oakland students facing such difficulties.


Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, or PBIS, is a nationally recognized framework for shifting school culture from punitive to culturally responsive and positively reinforcing. Forty six OUSD schools have implemented PBIS practices for 1, 2 or 3 years to great effect.


One school carrying out this important work is Skyline High School where Kenny Williams serves as the Director of the Music Program and the PBIS Team Lead. Having heard about PBIS while working at a middle school outside of OUSD, Williams answered the call to get involved with the framework when he first arrived at Skyline. “I wanted to make sure that students were getting a fair shake”, he says. “So many students here simply don’t know how to behave on campus and I knew that we had to teach them appropriate behavior.”


The PBIS Team at Skyline is currently eight members strong - a mix of administrators, teachers, staff and parents - working to improve the culture at Skyline for all students, with an emphasis on students who need the extra support.


“It’s not about punishment”, Williams clarifies, “it’s about equity”. “Students who already follow the rules and understand expectations, for example, might not need any support. But students who are having trouble need to develop skills. For them, punishment like suspension doesn’t work.  Understanding the PBIS framework shows us that having a restorative justice circle for these students might be a better fit. Or having them meet with a mentor once a day could be effective. We need to meet students where they are and tailor the support we provide.”


Recent data proves that PBIS work is indeed effective. Nationally, schools implementing PBIS indicate an average of 50% reduction in disciplinary events. In OUSD, this framework was specifically selected to address the disproportionate referral of African American students for Special Education and for suspension. At the forty six OUSD schools implementing PBIS, there has been a 33.5% decrease in out of school suspensions between the 2012-13 and 2014-15 school years. At Skyline specifically, the out of school suspensions have dropped by 38.8% in the same time period.


Williams and the team at Skyline see the benefit of utilizing the PBIS approach every day: “Teachers and students remark about the big change they’ve seen on campus between this year and last year.  Part of that is attributable to the new, energetic staff. But it has alsoreally helped to have this PBIS framework.”


From teachers being very clear about the expectations for classroom behavior (“How are we acting with integrity today?”) to school-wide assemblies engineered to honor students with high GPAs, or those showing improvement from one grading period to the next, the PBIS work at Skyline is about making sure students first and foremost know how to act. Then, their appropriate behavior can be positively reinforced.


Says Williams, “It doesn’t matter how bright our students are. If we don’t help them develop the tools to behave appropriately in the world, they will not be college and career ready.  Because PBIS allows students to be held accountable, it encourages them to take control over their lives, and their education and it even encourages them to hold others accountable. That’s why I’m so excited to grow this movement.”


For more information about the PBIS framewok in OUSD, see Behavioral Health Services.