As a helicopter from the Baton Rouge Police Department touched down in a large field behind Port Allen Middle School, PAMS Principal Dr. Jonathon Szymanski’s dreams of an entire school with reports of good behavior came to fruition.
Students lined up and poured from the back of the school, faces lit with excitement. But the students remained quiet, aside from a few excited gasps, chuckles and an occasional childlike outburst.
On Friday, April 19, Szymanski and the staff of PA Middle School celebrated their students’ good behavior from throughout the year so far – including their landmark 150 days of no fights on school grounds.
In the 2009-2010 school year, Szymanski’s first year as principal, Port Allen Middle School had nearly 30 fights reported in the school year, and about 900 discipline referrals. The school’s performance score, at 70.2, was one of the lowest in the parish.
“My first year as principal it wasn’t exactly 30, but it was high – and each year it’s gotten better, so structure produces structure,” Szymanski said. “(Students) know the expectations we have for them; they know what’s going to happen if they make the wrong choice, but it’s the positive decisions in life that we try, at Port Allen Middle School, to reward.”
A sign in the hallway of PAMS counts each day that the school remains “fight free” – 151 as of the end of the school day Monday, April 22.
“I talk to them everyday about doing the right thing, walking away from a bad situation, reporting bullies, and they’re doing that like I’ve never seen before,” Szymanski said. “I am extremely proud of our kids. I think they’re wonderful.”
The behavioral transformation in the students has gotten the attention of others in the WBR community as well.
When the students arrived in the cafeteria after viewing the BRPD’s helicopter, they saw that WBR Sheriff Mike Cazes had bought them 100 pizzas and beverages for lunch.
“The sheriff wanted to show them support for their good behavior and reward them,” said Percy Simms, WBRSO Detective Sergeant. “He wanted to show appreciation to the kids.”
Szymanski said that the changes in students’ behavior came with structure and “tough love.”
“The kids know that the teachers and everyone on staff love them and we want them to be successful. But it comes with discipline,” he said.
Since the 2009-2010 school year, PAMS has raised their school performance score by nearly 14 points and decreased the number of discipline referrals to about 200, an enormous difference from the 900 four years ago.
Szymanski said that if his students can continue to be fight free throughout the rest of the school year, he plans to have a two-day carnival to celebrate the students’ behavior – and he believes they will achieve the goal. He has already moved the last days of testing up two days so the last two days of school will be free - for something like a party.
“They’re cognizant of it. I’ve got it on the marquee, and I’ve got a counter in the hallway that shows you everyday we change a number,” he said. “It’s happening; change. Some folks don’t believe it, but when you come here and you see it, and see how well our kids are, you see it. You see consistency. It’s like a big machine.”