Using Hero as a District-Wide Solution for Better-Behaving, Higher-Performing Schools

With 128,000 students and 8,000 teachers split across 197 schools, the Duval County Public School System (DCPS) in Jacksonville, Florida, is the 20th largest district in the country. Like many districts, its schools are comprised of a healthy mix of neighborhood, charter, magnet, and alternative schools. But what makes DCPS particularly interesting is that Jacksonville is the largest city (by area) in the United States, so it’s student population is completely diverse, leading to some schools performing better—academically and behaviorally—than others.

The challenge, then, for Duval and all districts, is how do you get all of the schools on the same page? How do you get the poorer performing schools to do better, behaviorally and academically, while maintaining the success of the top schools? The answer can only come from a District-wide solution.

Abandoning the District’s Punitive Approach Towards Discipline

Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Former Superintendent of Duval County, recognized the behavioral and academic issues some of his schools were having, and decided it was time to try something different. The first step was to change his—and the district’s—mindset on discipline. Instead of having a punitive approach towards negative behavior, the approach would be to redirect it with positive reinforcement. Essentially, where possible, trade suspensions for positive praise.

Positive behavior reinforcement is not a new idea, and teachers have always used it as part of their classroom management strategies. But what is different is when the positive behavior program is a computer application, like Hero, put into place by the district. So, no longer are classrooms using their own techniques and strategies, with little visibility into their success or pitfalls. Everyone is connected, working towards the same goal of making the entire district better.

The Pilot: Testing Out Positive Behavior Management

In Spring of 2016, Duval County Public Schools introduced Hero into four of its schools as a Pilot (or test) of how well the application would work. Hero sees a lot of success in its schools decreasing negative behavior, like tardies (digital processing of tardies means that nothing falls through the cracks, holding kids accountable, and encouraging them to arrive on time) but Duval County wanted to primarily focus on positive behavior reinforcement. This goes along with Dr. Vitti’s desire to shift that mindset from punitive to positive.

Positive behavior reinforcement on a school-wide level works like this: instead of calling out students for what they are doing wrong (and essentially ignoring the students behaving well) you acknowledge the right. By allowing every student—the troublemakers and the self-motivated—the opportunity for small successes, it slowly starts to shift the culture. And that’s what started to happen at Duval’s Hero-piloting schools.

Setting Students Up For Success

The behaviors they initially chose to track were ones they knew all students could achieve, like arriving to class on time, wearing the proper uniform, and participating. When a positive behavior was recognized, it was entered, or tracked, and they got Hero points, which can be redeemed for things like school store items, trinkets, candy, or even time in a school VIP Game Lounge. This combination—positive acknowledgement and reward—worked really well, fast. So well, that Duval County decided to expand Hero into 54 schools.

Better Data Makes for Better Behavior Management

One thing that makes Hero particularly useful in student behavior management is its ability to provide school leaders with valuable data. Administrators can see, at-a-glance, what teachers are engaged with Hero, what behaviors are decreasing, which ones are spiking up—the possibilities are almost endless. These reports will help make sure that your behavior programs are working. And if they’re not? You’d know definitively, and be able to re-chart the course.

Duval County really made incredible use of their data, not only by keeping track of student behavior within Hero schools, but also by setting up control groups to see how schools with Hero performed compared to school without. The results were impressive, to say the least.

Results: Reduction in Referrals

In terms of referrals, the data showed that Hero schools reduced referrals by nearly two times the amount of non-Hero schools, a 27% reduction in referrals versus a 16% reduction for non-Hero schools. The most effective schools were ones that were constantly monitoring the overall success of their behavior management programs through Hero reports that identified top behaviors, top teachers, and top students.

Increase in Standardized Test Scores

Particularly interesting was the correlation found between Hero usage and an increase in academic scores. It makes (common) sense that improvements in school culture and a reduction in behavior incidents allows for more student instruction time. But through the control groups, academic gains were analyzed across Duval’s Middle Schools, and it was found that Hero Schools have a much higher percentage of students improving their Florida Standardized Test scores compared to non-Hero schools.

A Return on Investment of Over $2M

Discipline management takes a lot of time. And, as we know, time is money. So we created a sample ROI model to illustrate the value (in dollars) of staff time returned to districts at Hero schools, based on the reduction in staff time spent on referrals. In the case of Duval County, this return was compared to the cost of Hero to illustrate the financial return. Overall, it was found that Hero helped Duval County Regain $2,072,375 in instructional costs.

The Bigger Picture

Data is great, because it helps to definitely determine whether your strategic behavior goals are working or not. But what it cannot show is the intangible effect a program like Hero can have at your schools. With most schools and districts using Hero, the ultimate goal is to decrease negative behavior, improve academic scores, and to save money due to instructional time lost, and they’ve had great success at that. But what’s just as important is how positive behavior reinforcement changes the feeling, or culture, of the school. And since Duval County recognized over 1.5 million desired behaviors—in just 3 months. We can only assume that the feeling in those schools is a much more positive one.