Martin County, Kentucky is seeing hopeful results from their first two years using a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) to improve their student behavior.
Once a burgeoning economy sustained by the coal industry, Martin County has been in steep economic decline since before the ’60’s era War on Poverty.
Even though the poverty rate has improved in the last 50 years, it’s still at a dismal 40%. Coal mining has diminished drastically in the area, and being isolated in the Appalachian mountain range, other industries haven’t come to Martin County to replace it.
As a consequence, the effects of generational poverty have negatively affected the community’s children.
“…the county quoted from a state survey that said nearly a quarter of 14- and 15-year-olds in the 540-student high school were bullied at school, 10 percent missed a day or more of school in the prior 30 days because they didn’t feel safe, and 10 percent had attempted suicide in the past year.”
In the face of poverty and its repercussions on student performance, Martin County Schools applied for and received a federal School Transformation Grant in 2014. Since being awarded the grant, the school district has been implementing a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) to improve school climate, social skills, and behavior.
The first step in any climate transformation is to get teachers on board with the idea.
According to district superintendent Larry James, Martin County Schools has this covered.
“…we have tremendous teachers, as good as you can find anywhere.”
And in addition to committed, high-quality educators, they’ve invested significantly in training teachers to work within the discipline and academic framework.
As we’ve seen with other successful implementations of multi-tiered interventions, like Crystal Lake Middle School and Broward County School District, ongoing training for teachers and administrators is critical to seeing a positive change in school climate.
A large part of the work is in training teachers and administrators so that the work becomes second nature, said Howard M. Knoff. Based in Arkansas, Knoff is assisting Martin County with grant implementation.
“Those folks become the core of the leadership,” he said. “In order to maintain and sustain it, it has to be not dependent at all on the outside consultant or core coach. It has to be something that the staff is doing as part of their assignment, part of their routine.”
Martin County Schools has created consistency with their Tier 1 Behavioral Matrix.
Tier 1 touches every student in the school. This tier includes the “behavioral matrix,” which clearly identifies desired student behaviors and—just as importantly—the consequences of misbehavior.
Prior to implementing MTSS, the punishment and rewards for the same behaviors changed depending on which classroom the student was in and which staff member was in charge. With the behavioral matrix—which provides clear behavioral expectations for the students—the district is beginning to see continuity in their disciplinary policy.
But it’s in the implementation of Tier 2 that the Martin County School District really shines.
The district has put a “monitoring system” in place that can help educators find students who need focused attention before the student lashes out with poor behavior.
This, along with a universal screening that every student must take, has gone a long way to identify “students whose emotional problems might not be as obvious” so that proper interventions can be put in place.
While the district is still working hard to fully implement Tier 3, which deals with student behaviors that need a high level of intervention, the progress so far shows the resolve of the district’s teachers and administrators to equipping students holistically for the future.
“What we know is that it’s not enough to have our students prepared academically. We have to equip them with as many tools as we can to maximize their chance of success once they leave us.” – Paul Baker, District Psychologist and director of the school climate project
To truly improve school climate, it’s essential to have tools that help measure progress.
For Martin County Schools, measurement of their progress on certain indicators is necessary in their grant reporting.
Besides being necessary for the sake of grant management and reporting, tracking things like suspensions, tardies, referrals, and expulsions gives school leaders the information they need to make informed ongoing decisions. If you can compare and analyze behavioral data sets, you can assess whether the programs you have in place are working. If the numbers aren’t trending the way you’d like, you can fine-tune your behavioral matrix, techniques, and strategies, proactively shifting your campus climate.