School administrators have several tools at their disposal to deal with discipline problems, but say it can be hard to balance correcting unsafe behavior with keeping children in school.
Janet Godina Perez, principal at Morada Middle School, has a secret weapon when it comes to keeping expulsion rates down at her school.
"It's called my vice principal," she said.
Perez is referring to Dominee Muller-Kimball, who she said has a strong connection to parents at the school, with more than 150 contacts in her school phone to keep track of families, who know they can call her with problems.
The school has established a system to deal with triggers for student behavior that could lead to a suspension or expulsion. They also practice Ruby Payne teaching strategies.
When those strategies were introduced in 2003, Morada was the lowest performing middle school in the district, with an API score of about 560. Since then, they have become the highest performing, with a current API score on 774, according to Stephen Takemoto, coordinator of child welfare.
The tactics seem to be working.
Last year, only four students were expelled from Morada, compared to nine at Millswood and eight at Lodi Middle School.
This year, Morada has had only three expulsions so far, compared to 15 at Millswood and one at Lodi Middle.
Anger management groups and daily behavior contracts are just some of the tactics used by Morada Middle School staff. Kids know that if they're having a tense day, they can stop by the office to talk it out. Staff have a willingness to work with students before the situation erupts, Perez said.
As another alternative to sending a child home from school with a two-day suspension for bad behavior, the school invites parents to escort their student through the school day.
"It allows the student to stay in class and gives the parent a close up look at the school day," Perez said.
The key is correct student placement. Children need to be in a classroom environment that works for them and creates positive feelings toward school, she added.
"If we can make sure students are placed correctly in classes and have success, then they are learning," Perez said. "When they struggle, they get frustrated and that's when the behaviors move forward."