Urbana superintendent: 'We were ready the whole way for this move'

Urbana superintendent: 'We were ready the whole way for this move'

URBANA — Urbana schools Superintendent Don Owen is owning up to poor communication in the rollout of a new discipline system that has drawn criticism from parents and staff.

"I could have done a much better job with communication from start to finish," Owen said during a Wednesday appearance on WDWS' "A Penny for Your Thoughts."

Owen was singled out at last week's school board meeting in a statement by President John Dimit, who spoke of a "board directive" to the superintendent in April to "slow this process down."

"The board warned the administration of the disruptions that would occur should this step not be taken," Dimit went on to say. "But the process went on as if the board had not spoken."

While admitting fault in communication on Wednesday, Owen also said, "In terms of being ready, we were ready the whole way for this move."

Owen said the district's move to "restorative practices" has been going on for two-and-a-half years. But he called the changes made prior to the start of this school year — sparked by what officials identified as a racial disparity in the number of out-of-school suspensions — a more radical shift.

The changes take discipline out of the hands of the deans and allow staff members with special training to talk to students one-on-one or in small groups. The goal is to find the root cause of a student's behavior problem and change it.

And it's working, Owen insisted Wednesday.

"Students are now starting to say, 'Hey, I don't want to see a fight. I heard this.' They're now starting to identify who are the adults in the building that they can go to and say, 'Hey, how can I help be a preventative voice in this system?' Owen said.

"That's exactly what the idea was, and is. Having an adult who is there to respond to student stress, student conflict, student trauma is going to prevent conflict, is going to prevent fights, is going to make the school a more positive and safe environment for learning."