Superintendent calls on parents to get involved amid rising suspension rate

Superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy. (WAVY File Photo).

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The top administrator of Portsmouth Public Schools says he alone can’t fix the number of suspensions plaguing the district.

“I need help from the community,” said Dr. Elie Bracy. “Our parents are not engaged to the level any of us want to see.”

Concern over the district’s suspension rate, the highest in Hampton Roads, brought parents and teachers to a meeting at I.C. Norcom High School Tuesday night, led by Dr. Bracy.

“You want the same thing that I want,” Bracy told the audience of about 75 people. “…Reduced suspensions, that in turn will keep students in school [and] in classes where we hope they will be successful.”

The meeting comes after about a year of efforts by the district and community-based “Virginia Organizing” to address the problem. The suspension numbers have steadily gone up since 2013.

Grassroots group pushes Portsmouth Public Schools to address suspension rates

Parents tell 10 On Your Side their main concerns lie in what they call “petty suspensions” for violations like cursing or cell phone use.

“I think that some things can be disciplined and handled in the school system and not resulting in the school suspension or expulsion,” said Tyran Green, whose daughter is a senior.

Dr. Bracy says teachers can do more in presenting lessons that keep students engaged, but parents also have a responsibility.

“I think parents need to be involved in their child’s education. They really do,” he said.

A new program, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS), is being rolled out district-wide. Bracy says the program teaches good behavior and rewards students for good behavior. It includes individualized plans to improve the behavior of students who chronically disrupt class.

“The implementation is probably the most important part and moving forward that’s our goal to make sure that happens,” said Michael Wilkins.

Bracy reminded the audience that 83 percent of Portsmouth students were not suspended last year. Parents say they want to make sure the other 17 percent do not become a part of the statistic that shows suspensions serve as a pipeline to prison.

This year’s suspension numbers are about one percent below March 2016, according to Bracy, who says he’s optimistic the numbers will continue to go down.

“I just hope it continues to trend downward,” he said.

Bracy says he also formed a discipline committee to come up with solutions that includes administrators, teachers and community members. There’s also talk of revising the student code of conduct. Bracy says any changes would be voted on by the school board this summer.