Members of the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education have called for a broader presentation about the district's plan to address student behavior issues. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

School board members, teachers and even students expressed concern about discipline in Springfield’s classrooms.

Student discipline is a subject that came up regularly during the 2023 board election cycle, and one that Kelly Byrne has recently called for fellow board members and district leaders to address.

At the April 25 Springfield Board of Education meeting, Byrne made a motion to remove a $155,000 contract related to discipline training from the consent agenda. School administrators asked the board to approve the contract with Loving Guidance, Inc., but Byrne said it required additional discussion. The contract would specifically provide training to educators about conscious discipline, a concept that teaches children (and adults) to identify their emotions, regulate them and work toward solving problems, according to Loving Guidance’s founder

The training, which the contract language states will give participants “an understanding of the correlation between a student’s ability to self‐regulate and their academic performance, including information about brain states, stress and learning,” ultimately got the green light on a 4-1-2 vote, with board members Maryam Mohammadkhani and Steve Makoski abstaining. 

With federal funding and money from the Darr Foundation, the district was looking to hold a five-day training session for teachers interested in using the concept in their schools and classrooms. Byrne said he wasn’t specifically opposed to the training, or the concept being taught. 

“My issue with it, and the reason I’m going to vote no on it, isn’t because I necessarily want to shoot down this particular item,” he said. “It’s that I’d like to continue to push as a board that we expedite our plan for what we’re going to do for behavior and discipline. I just don’t have a feeling for what the plan is.” 

Mohammadkhani said she lacked understanding as to how the success of the concept would be measured. 

“I feel like my role as a board member is, you know I trust the district and this is the direction they want to go, but I feel like, as a board member, I have to be able to have a method of being able to monitor the progress of said methods,” Mohammadkhani said. “What’s working, what’s not working, that’s my role as a board member.” 

She made a motion to table a vote on the contract until the board received a presentation on the short- and long-term plan to address discipline and to track the efficacy of the district’s efforts so far.

Grenita Lathan, SPS superintendent, said 200 staff members are set to participate in the training that is scheduled to begin in July. The district has contracted for training in recent years, Lathan said, and the number of schools with staff receiving training has grown over time. Lathan wasn’t sure of the implications that would come with delaying the approval of the contract for a month. 

“If I had gotten the questions in advance I would have been able to research it and have an answer for tonight,” Lathan said. 

Most board members learned about conscious discipline during 2022 presentation

Six of the current board members learned about conscious discipline during a presentation last summer. (Newly elected member Judy Brunner wasn’t on the board then.) Alison Roffers, the district’s director of counseling services, touched on the subject during a presentation to the board about social-emotional learning in June 2022. Roffers described a method of discipline designed to help students with composure, emotional regulation and asserting their voice as they navigate through an issue. 

Byrne asked questions about it then to Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, who at the time was the leader of the since-renamed Office of Equity and Diversity. Gacia-Pusateri said the goal of conscious discipline was to get students to deal with their problems through a rational mindset rather than while the student is in the midst of a survival mode or unregulated emotional state. To do that, she said, students benefited from seeing their teachers modeling the behavior. 

Last summer, Roffers said 26 principals had asked for staff training on the concept, and that it was heading to more school sites across the district. 

At the April 25 meeting, board member Shurita Thomas-Tate said that while conscious discipline is “not my favorite program,” she didn’t take issue with the contract. Thomas-Tate said conscious discipline was an evidence-based piece of a larger system of behavioral supports that are part of the district’s current plans that address discipline.

“I do agree that we need a new plan, but until we get one, we do still have to have some supports in place,” she said. 

Byrne says board needs to hear about district’s overall discipline plan soon

Springfield Public School Board of Education member Kelly Byrne, pictured at the February meeting when Maryam Mohammadkhani was removed as vice president, said he believes it’s his duty as an elected official to listen to concerns. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Byrne said he did not want to keep approving programs and training related to discipline in a piecemeal fashion if the board hadn’t received an overall plan for addressing student behavior. Even if it was not a complete plan, Byrne said he hoped he was not alone in wanting to see something before classes start in August 2023. 

“If we wait beyond the start of the school year, then we’re looking at another year where we’ve done nothing, and all we’ve heard is that this is an issue,” Byrne said. “I’m just asking to address what we can address by the time school starts.” 

Danielle Kincaid, board president, said she understood Byrne’s request for an overall presentation and then asked the board to vote on whether or not approval of the specific contract in question should be tabled for further discussion. Board members Kincaid, Thomas-Tate, Scott Crise and Brunner voted to address the contract that night. Byrne, Mohammadkhani and Makoski voted to delay approval. 

The board then voted 4-1-2 to approve the contract. Kincaid, Thomas-Tate, Crise and Brunner supported it.

The conscious discipline training remains scheduled to take place this July. Whether the board will be hearing more about the district’s overall plan for discipline before or after that remains to be seen.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson