Clemens Primary School's sensory room

Clemens Primary School now has a "sensory room" in its front office designed to calm students experiencing behavioral challenges.

Routine administrator reports shared through the Philomath School Board's monthly meetings usually involve limited discussion. Board members scan the reports offered by the various principals on a variety of topics and easily digest the information.

The Feb. 22 meeting's administrator reports focused on attendance data and school behavior, topics that are reviewed about three times per academic year. An unusually high number of Clemens Primary School suspensions attracted attention.

Principal Abby Couture reported that 26 suspensions involving five students at Clemens (grades K-1) had been issued through Feb. 14.

"These have been cases of severe physical aggression toward adults or other children," Couture reported. "At the primary level, it is our goal to keep children in school as much as possible. However, in an instance of severe loss of control when others are getting hurt, we will send children home."

The school then schedules meetings with professionals and parents to discuss behavior strategies.

School board member Greg Gerding saw those numbers and asked Couture for more information.

"The suspensions that we have on there occurred, the majority of them, at the beginning of the school year," Couture said. "We had an influx of new students come in this year, some with some very, very severe behavior problems where they were attacking other children, attacking the adults in the school."

When students are sent home in those instances, Couture said they cannot return the same day and so they are classified as suspensions.

"Melissa and I worked very closely at the beginning of the school year, we actually brought in some more people to help with the behaviors at the school, hired some new instructional assistants, came up with behavior plans for these kids ... and these students are being a lot more successful in school," Couture said. "Now we're seeing a turn-around, it's a lot better."

One of the strategies implemented involves what is called a calming or sensory room.

Couture said some of those students just don't have coping mechanisms when they become anxious or overwhelmed, sometimes triggered in situations involving excessive noise.

"So we created a sensory room right there in the office, there's a window so we can see. It's all blacked out and there's special lights in there that kinda glow that are calming for students," Couture described. "We purchased a swing that we hung from the ceiling that's kinda cocoon-shaped and they can just sit in the little swing and calm themselves."

Couture said there is also a trampoline, if they want to jump, and said the high school's business management class did research and provided sensory "manipulatives" that the kids can squeeze and touch.

Couture has seen a vast improvement. Particular students that were tearing the office apart while kicking and screaming are now finding the ability to calm down.

"We've coached them and taught them 'it's OK, everybody has those moments where they're feeling upset, but when you're feeling that way, your brain needs a break,'" Couture said. "So they go into the sensory room, we set a timer for five minutes, they go in on their own, the timer beep goes off, they leave the room and they go back to class and we're not having the meltdowns like we were."

In other news from the Feb. 22 meeting:

· Matthew Gonzales, technology director, and Jennifer Kessel, technology specialist, summarized a 2019-23 district technology plan, including expected costs of $1.2 million and funding strategies.

· In the superintendent's report, Goff talked to the board about advancements in career and technical education that will ultimately benefit students.

· Business manager Bill Mancuso highlighted rising enrollment figures in his report. From Jan. 18 to Feb. 15, the number of full-time students throughout the district increased from 1,597 to 1,618, which included nine more students at Philomath Elementary and six more at the high school.

· The board approved a consent agenda, which includes several personnel comings and goings. On particular note, Paul Miller, middle school social studies teacher, is retiring.

· The board adopted ballot title language to be submitted to the Benton County Elections Office for the renewal of the school district's operating levy. The board intends for the renewal to appear on the May 15 ballot.

· The superintendent's office will oversee the policy subcommittee instead of the board in a restructuring move. The board approved the move on a 5-0 vote.

· The board reviewed the superintendent's annual evaluation with positive results and unanimously voted to approve it.

· The board approved Craig McDaniel to fill a vacancy on the school district's budget committee.

· The board approved a resolution to accept grants of $18,834 from the state to support special education and $44,490 from Oregon State University to support the Outdoor School Fund. As a result, changes to the corresponding appropriation categories were completed.

· The board approved a resolution to appropriate $200,000 for the grandstand project, a move required under budget law. Most of the funds, Mancuso said, will come in from grants, donations and other outside sources with the cost to the school district anticipated at $40,000 to $50,000.

· The board approved $17,333 to Forecast 5 Analytics, a program that allows school districts to access information on trending analysis, projections, comparables to similar districts and several other types of data.



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