Greenfield High School principal Paul Thusius has taken an unorthodox measure in an effort to curb the school's first-hour tardy epidemic.
On Thursday, Thusius implemented a new protocol that calls for all students that are tardy first hour to report to the Performing Arts Center. They remain there for the entire first hour and are not allowed to eat or drink. They can’t text or talk and can’t listen to music.
They are there to reflect on being late, Thusius said, and do homework, if they wish.
Tardiness has been a huge problem at Greenfield High School in the six years since the school start time switched to 7:10 a.m. The high school had 9,671 instances of first-hour tardies during 2011-12, up from 8,591 in 2010-11. The high school had 7,200 or more tardies in the 2007-08, 08-09 and 09-10 school years after having just 4,086 in 2006-07, when school started at 7:15 a.m.
But the tipping point for Thusius came this semester, when through the first month, more than 600 different students had at least one first-hour tardy. On Wednesday alone, 90 students were late to their first-hour class.
“I was under the impression as I looked at the numbers and saw the same kids coming late every day, we have 5-10 percent of these kids coming late every day and it’s very hard to change their behavior,” Thusius said.
“But as we collected more detailed information, I found out the first month 609 students were tardy at least once. That’s over 40 percent of the kids in the school. I know for a fact you can affect the behavior of some of that 40 percent.
“It’s becoming a culture issue at the school and in the community with the parents.”
Thusius, in his second year as principal, said he and his staff had tried positive reinforcement efforts to quell the rising tardy count. He said he’d pop into various first-hour classes and ask teachers if they had any tardies. If they did not, he’d offer candy and other small rewards to the students. His hope was that if there was one student who cost the class a reward, he or she would be peer pressured into being on time the next day.
But things continued to get worse, and Thusius decided to it was time to “drop the hammer,” as he put it.
“It’s punitive, I know that,” Thusius said. “I don’t like taking punitive measures because when you do that it sometimes sets up an adversarial relationship and we want a cooperative relationship. But behaviors weren’t changing.”
Thusius said the toughest part about his decision was keeping late students in the PAC for all of first hour. He knows the move is counterintuitive when it comes to learning. But he said at times, certain first-hour classes were being interrupted five to six times by different students showing up tardy, impacting everyone’s learning.
“It’s the lesser of two evils. Decisions like this are never straightforward,” he said. “I’m hoping in the long run it pays off for everyone.”
Parent feedback mixed
Reaction to the new policy has drawn mixed results among parents on Greenfield Patch’s Facebook page.
Parents against the move called the idea horrible and juvenile, and one parent said a zero-tolerance policy is not the answer.
“Why should the child be punished for the parent’s actions,” she wrote.
She added, “Does the administration think the kids are really reflecting on their actions or just happy to get out of class.”
But some parents think it’s a great idea.
“It starts in the home with setting guidelines for success,” one parent wrote. I don’t want the late students distracting my child’s learning time.
That parent added, “This policy has stopped classroom disruptions and time will tell if it helps with the volume of tardiness. At least they are trying to be proactive.”
And though it is far too early to see if Thusius’ idea is working, the preliminary results are encouraging. After the 90 tardies on Wednesday, and some days reaching nearly 100 prior to that, there were 65 students tardy on Thursday and only 35 on Friday.
Thusius said there are factors that play a role in the tardies, including parents simply not getting their students to school on time. He knows that traffic at the school is problematic in the morning, but believes more parents and students getting to school earlier than right before the first bell would fix that problem.
And of course, there's the hotly debated start time of 7:10 a.m., one of the earliest start times in the state. Changing the school start time is expected to be discussed by the School Board again Monday, but Thusius isn’t so sure it would fix the high school’s current tardy problem.
“It’s a complex issue. It’s more complex than an easy yes or no,” he said. “I don’t think that moving the start time back is going to have an overwhelming impact on the tardy issue. Having said that, the bigger issue to examine is how does the start time affect student learning. … That’s the essential issue in moving the start time, to me."