Levy dollars focus: Behavioral Intervention Sp.

Levy dollars focus: Behavioral Intervention Sp.
Posted on 05/20/2019
At the heart of each Tahoma school’s culture and success is a key position that many parents and community members may not know much about: the Behavioral Intervention Specialist (BIS).

The full breadth of what a successful BIS offers a school’s culture is nearly impossible to describe, says Kyle Hood, Dean of Students at Glacier Park and the husband of GPES BIS Kate Hood. He also worked as a BIS before moving into a dean position.

“A good BIS is not a classroom or a place. It is a person who has lasting impacts on their students and the classrooms of those students,” Kyle Hood said. “The culture, climate, and morale of a building rests on the BIS. Our kids’ long-term success lies in the hands of the BIS.”

Tahoma's principals and administrators consider this position so vital to each building’s success that they have devoted funds to pay for nine full-time equivalent BIS staff members, one at each building. This year, that cost is about $604,480 including benefits. Some of this money comes from Special Education funding; however, the district as a whole is underfunded in Special Education so Tahoma supplements with levy dollars.

A successful BIS is more than a special education teacher, general education teacher, and even more than the sum of the two, Hood explained.

“I find it difficult to put into words exactly what a BIS does or contributes to our school. Not because I don’t know what they do or how they do it,” he said. “I find it difficult because it is so emotional. Our BIS teachers historically have worked with the most behaviorally impacted students in the district. It takes massive amounts of patience, kindness, understanding, teaching, reinforcing, communication, hope, love, passion, the ability to forget the bad, the ability to memorialize the good, and tears.”

“We know that our students struggle, we want so badly to just find that ‘thing’ that helps them to not struggle and to feel and be seen as just another kid. We want to teach them the things that come naturally to others. To fit in. To just be," Hood added. "When our kids are successful in working with the BIS, this helps them to feel successful. When they are successful the general education environment, the class and teacher can function as it/they are intended. The BIS helps all kids be ‘OUR KIDS.’ They will not be known as ‘those kids.’”

Having a specific staff member trained in intervention methods is a central strategy to help students who repeatedly disrupt class, struggle with social skills or show aggression toward others. They learn to replace problem behaviors with more positive ones. What the help looks like varies from student to student – sometimes the student physically goes to the BIS classroom, while in other cases, the BIS teacher goes to the student’s classroom to check in with the student and teacher.

“They’re super important to our schools. … I couldn’t do my job without the BIS because she’s a dedicated support for our students who have individual education plans surrounding behavior,” said Tina McDaniel, dean of students at Cedar River Elementary School. “It’s a partnership between our teachers, BIS and administrators. (Behavior intervention) provides an opportunity for us to be proactive and not reactive.”

At CRES, BIS Kristina Zack designs lessons around social-emotional skills and serves as an advocate for students, McDaniel said. While some students work directly with Zack, others don’t qualify for services – but that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from her expertise. If any teacher or staff member needs help coming up with a different procedure, method or intervention, Zack is there to provide support.

“This isn’t just a special education issue. This is a kid issue, and what can we do to best support them?” McDaniel added.

In many Tahoma buildings, the BIS also is a integral factor in the the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) plan, which in general helps students know expectations, increase positive choices and reduce poor choices. Schools that utilize PBIS strategies see fewer discipline issues and improved school climate. Examples of Tahoma PBIS efforts that parents may recognize include Voice Levels, L.I.N.E.S. behavior and awards such as Otter Paws or Eagle Feathers.

While many of the main roles of the BIS staff members are similar from building to building, there are also some differences depending on that student population’s exact needs and other factors, such as whether the building has a SAILS (Successful Academic and Independent Living Skills) program. At Maple View Middle School, which does have SAILS, Dean of Students Pam McKinney said that BIS Melinda Gray is essential to their team for many reasons including her ability to help students connect relationally.

“It often has the desired impact of giving students the individualized supports as well as an advocate for their needs, both at home and at school,” said McKinney, who was a BIS for 14 years. “Melinda serves on our PBIS team and has been a part of our trainings for staff about how to work with the ever-growing population of students that have been impacted by disabilities as well as early childhood experiences that manifest themselves behaviorally with social and emotional deficits. Students have a classroom where they specifically learn how to ‘be a student,’ how to utilize coping strategies, and utilize an alternative environment for learning when not successful in the classroom environment temporarily.”

Just as the BIS program may look different from building to building, so does the assistance that each child needs, said Shadow Lake Elementary Principal Mike Hanson and Dean of Students Scott Mitchell.

“Our students’ needs run across a wide spectrum. We are fortunate in our systems to have highly trained individuals that are able to provide support to students that are specific to their behavioral needs,” Hanson said. “In some systems it is up to a non-specialized staff member to support students with these needs. The targeted support in Tahoma schools offers our kids specific skills and strategies that support their long-term development.”

Some of the students who work with the BIS staff members at each school have one-on-one paraeducator support, while others do not. For those who do, the paras and the BIS coordinate their approach and methods.

“The role of the BIS teacher in our school is key to the success for our students that need extra support in order to achieve their best in school,” Shadow Lake Dean of Students Scott Mitchell said. “The BIS works with our students to form trusting relationships in an effort to build up their social and emotional skills so they can reach their academic potential.”

Tahoma Elementary Principal Jerry Gaston agreed that the position is important not only to the students who work directly with the BIS, but for the rest of the school as well.

“At TES it is impossible to say there is a member of our staff that is not critical to the work of serving our students well. We are fortunate to have a Behavior Intervention Specialist that does so much to positively impact our school’s environment,” Gaston said. “She meets regularly to provide intensive, small group and individualized instruction in the areas of social and emotional growth that also includes building strategies for self-regulating and making the best personal choices.

“This facilitation of student growth allows each child we serve to then be better prepared to achieve the highest academic standards,” he added. “The program also promotes a larger school culture of positive school behaviors that allows each and every student to maximally access all the learning opportunities we provide without distraction.”

In Kate Hood’s classroom at Glacier Park one recent morning, a small group of students played a game with a para at one table in the center of the group. Called “Mad Dragons,” the game is similar to “Uno,” but encourages the players to talk about their feelings, and strategies that they use to help manage those feelings when they begin to be overwhelming. Within the scope of the game, the students talked about what facial expressions can communicate to others, what compromises look like, how to use “whole body listening,” taking turns, and other social-emotional topics.

Early in each school year, Hood helps students learn about the “Zones of Regulation,” which is essentially a way for students to think about, gauge and name their feelings. The method comes from a book of the same name by Leah M. Kuypers. If students are in the green zone, they’re feeling pretty good; if they’re in the red zone, they’re feeling extremely frustrated or upset. Then, they learn coping strategies such as breathing and other methods that can help them move down from red toward green.

Hood designs some lessons around stories that she reads aloud to small groups of students. For example, they might read part of “Baditude,” by Julia Cook, or “My Day is Ruined,” by Bryan Smith, and then participate in a related activity. On this day, at a second table, another student-para duo worked on a math assignment, completing chunks of work and alternating with a fun computer activity. Later that morning, yet another student who has been working with Kate Hood came to the class to celebrate a “win” – after making a good choice in his homeroom class, he was awarded a Polar Bear Paw Print award. Some of those who work with Hood earn choice time by making good decisions. In this case, he picked a game of Jenga as his reward for earning choice time. Describing what he had done to earn the Paw Print, the boy was smiling and enthusiastic.

“High-five!” Hood exclaimed, holding out her hand to the student. “It sounds like that was really kind of you!”

*Editor’s note: Tahoma uses levy dollars to help pay for positions and programs that the state and federal government do not fully fund. This article is the first in an ongoing, occasional series about the ways that levy dollars are spent in the district and how they contribute to the excellent education, safety and well-being of our students.
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