Teachers and faculty of North Charleston high school point to principal Henry Darby’s leadership as a driving force of innovation and progress | Photo by Rūta Smith
North Charleston High School has devised its own progressive discipline plan, making way for more meaningful discipline and consequences for students and encouraging growth and development.
“It is essentially a handbook of expectations and consequences that all administrations should be following and abiding by,” said North Charleston High educator and advocate Mev McIntosh. “It’s supposed to level the playing field across the board for the whole district.
“But just like a learning environment, it’s really difficult to create a one-size-fits-all plan when we know that students need different supports and react differently to different consequences,” McIntosh said.
Previous discipline plans doled out consequences without taking into account students’ individual circumstances, some of which may be beyond their control. For example, under the previous plan, after a certain number of tardies, a student would be suspended. That means even more time out of class.
“Let’s say transportation is an issue, and because of that, there is some tardiness,” McIntosh said. “There should be an opportunity for that student to have an alternate plan that provides a way to get caught up or to finish what was missing or what was lost with that lost time.”
Conditions in the home also play a part in online learning and factor into the new discipline plan.
“Our demographic can be rough at times, but home conditions aren’t what they used to be in my time,” Principal Henry Darby said. “The job scarcity — students have to work to help support the family — we have students who have to babysit for their parents, the school has to deal with all of that.”
Since the start of this school year, the school in the heart of Park Circle has put its new discipline plan in place, but due to the pandemic, results are hard to analyze at this point.
“Just to make a conjecture, I would say anywhere between 93 and 95 percent of our kids do extremely well in the area of discipline,” said Darby. “It’s just 5 to 7 percent that bring about the most problems in the school, but by and large, the student body does extremely well.”
That foundation, combined with the innovative approach to discipline will help North Charleston High become a community school, Darby said. But, in order to do that, he needed input and support from the community as a whole, including parents, business owners and the students themselves.
Still, early indicators are promising, the principal said.
“It will take more time, as the year progresses,” Darby said. “As of today, we don’t have enough data to make a full analysis, but based on the community support and collaboration, we think we are going to do extremely well.”
The plan is “not just discipline for the sake of discipline,” Darby said, but it is geared toward building community and includes positive measures and mentorship in addition to any negative consequences.
“The discipline is going to help the student grow, rather than being exclusively punitive,” McIntosh said. “Understanding the situation and coupling that with strong mentoring, and we have some great mentors, our students can speak with adults who’ve been through similar situations and still have risen to the challenge and been successful.”
McIntosh cedes credit for the basics of the new discipline plan to Darby’s leadership, vision and his ability to garner support from local education leaders.
“Darby is the type of leader who has proven that he is going to stick it out, regardless of what is being thrown his way, whether it’s good, bad or ugly,” McIntosh said. “In that commitment to the students and the North Charleston High School community, he has also asked for some flexibility, some autonomy, to do what he knows and what his faculty and staff know, works.”
Darby calls the plan a group effort.
“My administrative team, my teachers and the assistance from the district — they’ve really been bending over backward,” Darby said. “They are doing the very best they could … I have to give an appreciation to Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, Dr. [Eric] Mack of the school board, as well as Mr. Trevor Strawderman [district director of learning services] for allowing North Charleston to have its own discipline plan.”
“Understanding the situation and coupling that with strong mentoring, and we have some great mentors, our students can speak with adults who’ve been through similar situations and still have risen to the challenge and been successful.”—Mev McIntosh
Implementing a new discipline plan in the midst of the pandemic has highlighted some of the issues inherent with distance learning, especially with a focus of the plan being put on tardiness and suspension.
“Was it effective discipline even before the pandemic?” McIntosh asked. “Looking at this from my students, if they have three days of [out-of-school suspension], they are missing three days of class, is that a punishment? These are the questions we have to start looking at when it comes to this new plan, and education post-pandemic.”
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