How to Improve School Attendance

A Practical Guide for Schools and School Districts
A Project of the Los Angeles County Education Coordinating Council

Module 2: Student Discipline and Positive Behavioral Support — 7

The Story of Christa McAuliffe High
(Challenger Memorial Youth Camp) 56

Christa McAuliffe High School is located on the grounds of the Challenger Memorial Youth Camp (overseen by the Los Angeles County Probation Department) in Lancaster, California, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Educational services for residents are provided through the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

The Challenger complex houses a total of about 200 young people divided into three camps—one for repeat offenders, violent offenders, and those who have committed felonies (Camp Onizuka); and two for youth with three- to twelve-month sentences (Camps Jarvis and McNair). All youth attend the McAuliffe High facility.

In the past, behavior referrals and suspensions averaged 269 per month at Camp Jarvis, 105 per month at Camp McNair, and 73 per month at the much smaller Camp Onizuka. Since the schoolwide positive behavior interventions and support program was initiated, average referrals and suspensions have fallen considerably—between 50 and 60 percent at all three camps—to 134 per month at Camp Jarvis, 62 per month at Camp McNair, and 34 per month at Camp Onizuka.

The change began as a result of a legal settlement agreement in October 2011 that required school administrators to alter the culture and practices at McAuliffe High. A trusted advisor suggested a school-wide positive behavior interventions and support program, and an expert in implementing such programs in juvenile facilities reviewed the initiative with administrators, who agreed to proceed. They formed an implementation team that included a school psychologist, five teachers, two para-educators, a staff member from the Department of Mental Health, a general probation staff member, and one of the probation directors.

Prior to the team's proposing the program to the school, it surveyed the entire staff about discipline problems they faced in their classrooms and with classroom management. Once those responses were distilled, the leadership team introduced PBIS as a solution for those issues. Team members attended an initial round of training, then held an all-staff session in November 2011 at which the new structure and changes were explained—among them, the three new expectations for students: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe. In November and December of that year, the implementation team worked with staff to develop a facility-wide expectation matrix and a discipline response/interventions flow chart. In January 2012, the team held another staff training to discuss the matrix and its protocols, tying them to everyday student behaviors mentioned in survey responses. (The leadership team continues to meet weekly.)

Starting in February 2012, written behavioral expectations were posted around the school and in every classroom. They are also read by a student over the loudspeaker each morning. By June, lesson plans about behavioral expectations had been developed and the leadership team modeled how to teach them. After a somewhat chaotic summer (regular teachers were out and few preparations had been made to continue PBIS in their absence) another all-staff training was held in September.

56 Narrative adapted from an interview with Principal Marsha Watkins and Vice Principal Kimberly Humphries,
available at

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