Can character education be implemented in a huge, diverse school district where students speak over 100 languages? Fort Bend says “yes!” and is advocating for comprehensive character education because they are so happy with the results.
Recently, I attended a congressional briefing at the U.S. Capitol hosted by the Conditions for Learning Coalition. The briefing, Safe and Civil Schools: Using Positive Disciple Policies to Improve School Safety, Student Mental Health Services, and Academic Achievement, included a presentation by 2011 National School District of Character, Fort Bend Independent School District in Texas. I was excited to see how Fort Bend was doing 2 years after being recognized for their efforts as a District of Character, and becoming a leader and advocate for character ed.
Congressional staffers and researchers had come to the briefing to learn about strategies used to create Safe and Civil Schools, but they also needed solid justification. They were wondering, “if I support these strategies in my district, how do I know it will pay off?”
Ilene Harper, the Assistant Director of Student Support Services for Fort Bend gave plenty of reasons why a comprehensive character education program, paired with vision, buy-in, and clear expectations can lead to terrific improvements in culture and behavior across schools. Fort Bend's Goal is to “foster character development of students and create a safe, healthy environment for all” and they are in year 5 of a long-range character development plan.
A few great outcomes Harper shared at the briefing include:
- Number of suspensions dropping every year, and across all subgroups
- Referrals are also dropping dramatically
- Decrease in disciplinary placements
Many schools and districts of character see similar results, but those attending the briefing didn’t know that. Fort Bend was a great representative to teach them about the benefits of character education they might not have expected.
So what did it take for Fort Bend to be successful at a district level? Harper told us the key ingredients included:
1. Expectations at district and campus level aligned with strategic goals—a long-term commitment
2. On-going Professional Development Training
3. Accountability Roles and Responsibilities
4. Campus Expectations and Feedback through a Campus Team
5. True team approach to educating the whole child
6. Funding to support strategies
Harper felt it was the on-going district support through trainings, collaborative meetings, and campus involvement that made the different between a one-time initiative and a lasting system.
Given all the sad stories we often hear about at briefings and on the news, it was great to hear from a district that's doing well, despite recent budget cuts. Those of us who are lucky enough to learn about these great National Schools and Districts of Character hear wonderful transformative stories every day, so we try to share this hope and inspiration with others.