Citizens Present Proposal for School Board to Expand Community Engagement and Input regarding Student Behavior Policies 

Resolution Triggered by Broad Community Interest per Citywide Survey

Members of The Citizens Campaign’s Perth Amboy Education Task Force announced today the results of a month long survey of community members to gather input on how the School District should handle the most common in-school misbehaviors.

The Task Force received more than 500 responses from a broad cross-section of the community including parents, school teachers or personnel, concerned citizens, business owners and students.

With the assistance of The Citizens Campaign’s Legal Task Force they developed a resolution to present to the Perth Amboy School Board which establishes an annual process for community engagement and input on the Code of Student Code.

The survey results and model resolution will be presented by Task Force members at the next Perth Amboy School Board meeting on November 20.

The survey results show overall that Perth Amboy community members are supportive of the school district using “restorative justice” and “positive behavior intervention” practices when dealing with certain common student misbehaviors. These disciplinary methods are evidence-based best practices that address root causes of misbehavior while still holding students accountable. This approach has proven to be quite effective in improving the number of students graduating and decreasing the dropout rate.   

For example, these reforms were used in Baltimore Public Schools and resulted in a significant reduction in total school suspensions by almost half in six years. Additionally, dropout rates for African-American boys decreased by 59 percent and graduation rates increased by 16 percent.

 “We are thrilled by the community input we received, but our work has just begun,” said Perth Amboy resident and survey outreach ambassador Latica Hicks. “We envision this as just the first step in a long term process towards building a community-based code of excellence for our City’s youth.”

Reverend Donna Stewart, President of the Perth Amboy High School PTO and Task Force leader helping spearhead this effort said, “The survey and its results engage and inform parents so they can be more involved in their children’s education.”

Specifically, the survey showed:

  • When there is a violation of school uniform policy, the majority (58%) of those surveyed answered that the teacher should ask the student after class why she wasn’t wearing the uniform, while only 13% thought that simply sending the student to detention was the best option.
  • For disruptive/disrespectful behavior in the classroom, the majority (81%) of respondents chose one of the options aligned with positive behavior intervention techniques (e.g. giving in-class time out and talking to the student after class about what is bothering him), rather than relying entirely on in-school suspension
  • For the scenario of two students getting into a fist fight in the hallway, 64% of respondents chose the restorative justice approach of setting up a conference between the two students, their parents, and a counselor, while less than 16% thought in-school suspension was the best option.

The survey was developed by the Task Force in consultation with members of the Perth Amboy School Board Code of Student Conduct Review Committee which is working on updating the district’s current policies.

The survey results have been forwarded to the Code of Student Conduct Review Committee and School Board in advance of the resident’s presentation.

School Board President Obdulia Gonzalez thanked the citizens who worked on the survey, “We are truly impressed by the robust response from the community. It’s inspiring us to have more dialogue and gather more feedback from the community.”

The idea for the community survey was born out of The Citizens Campaign’s conference, Empowering Perth Amboy Parents & Students, held in April. Education experts from urban school districts complimented Perth Amboy citizens for identifying the best practice for helping students improve their behavior but emphasized the importance of getting community engagement in creating the Code of Student Conduct.

The Citizens Campaign facilitated a team of Perth Amboy residents serving who served as outreach ambassadors. The team included Donna Stewart, PTO President; Latica Hicks, parent representative; Dr. Senovia Robles, principal; William Kurzenburger, youth organization leader; Vanessa Cepin, non-profit representative; Vanessa Mendez-Gamez, local business representative; Joel Reyes, resident; and Manny Seda, resident.

Several community nonprofits helped distribute the survey: Raritan Bay Area YMCA; Jewish Renaissance Medical Center; Puerto Rican Association of Human Development; Perth Amboy Library; Catholic Charities; Perth Amboy Department of Recreation.

The Citizens Campaign is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to fixing our democracy from the bottom up by training citizens in evidence-based problem solving and no blame policy implementation, while empowering citizens to become a new force for answering our cities’ challenges.