When Leigh M. Ragsdale-Knoderer took over as principal of Jefferson Elementary, a public school in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, she was committed to helping reduce disciplinary actions. With a background as a teacher at an alternative school, Ragsdale-Knoderer felt that discipline, such as suspension, wasn’t always the right response to negative student behavior like substance misuse or abuse.
“It goes deeper than coming to school under the influence,” she said, noting that there were substance misuse concerns even at the elementary and middle school levels. “Suspension isn’t going to fix that. Treatment is needed.”
During her first year as principal, Ragsdale-Knoderer reduced disciplinary actions by 86.5%. She also helped the superintendent implement a system-wide program called Pathways. Among other positive attributes, the program provides students with access to mental health care and counseling. The program is young; however, she hopes it continues to evolve. She believes it has the potential to help many more students receive the help they need, rather than punishing them.
“It’s that restorative piece,” Ragsdale-Knoderer said. “Kids make mistakes, but how do we restore them and get them back with their peers?”