Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools – Practical Solutions, Positive Results!

Winter 2010

PASS—Help for Your Most Challenging Students

An Interview with Trish Reynolds, Behavior Specialist at Katy Independent School District

SCS: Tell us about yourself. How long have you been at Katy ISD? Were you involved in the PASS process from the beginning?

Trish: I've worked in both general education and special education. I was an AB teacher for years. In 2002, I accepted a position at Katy ISD. Shortly thereafter, I helped start the PASS program, so I've been there from the beginning.

SCS: Tell us about Katy ISD—what did it look like before you implemented PASS?

Trish: Students with emotional or social issues were placed in self-contained AB classes. Teachers weren't using a levels system. They were trying to work more positively with students, but still, students were struggling to be successful.

SCS: How did the decision to use PASS come about?

Trish: My colleague and I (both Behavior Specialists) decided we wanted to do more with the students, so we contacted Region 4 Educational Service Center to find out what other schools were doing. We visited programs in several other districts, including Galena Park ISD, the birthplace of PASS. We were so impressed with their program!

SCS: When did you first implement? Tell us about that process.

Trish: I believed in PASS so strongly that I wanted to implement it in all the schools throughout the district right away. But Fred Shafer, my supervisor and then Executive Director of Special Education, Counseling, and Psychological Services, suggested that we start slowly and make it successful in a few schools first. (Note: Mr. Shafer has since become Director of Special Education Services for the Region 4 Education Service Center.)

When we first saw it, we were concerned about the impact it would have on staff at Katy ISD. It seemed like a lot of work. We wondered how staff would receive the program.

After we received district approval, we visited each secondary school to chat informally with administrators and teachers about the program. We wanted to give them information to think about. Then, just before school started, we organized a short inservice to describe the program in more detail and to see if anyone wanted to do it. We found four junior high and two high schools that were willing to give it a try.

During the summer, Hope [Caperton-Brown] and Jim [Poole] offered a three-day workshop for the PASS teams from these schools. PASS teachers, paraeducators, and one administrator from each school attended. (Note: Hope Caperton-Brown and Jim Poole are the authors of the PASS program.)

We implemented in the fall of 2004.

That first year it was blood, sweat, and tears. Mainstream teachers were reluctant to accept these students, and PASS teachers worked hard to get them on board. But as they began to see the successes that students achieved, they came around.

The second year, Hope and Jim did another three-day training over the summer. During that training, I asked administrators from the first year's implementation to attend and share their experiences and stories with the new school staffs. This was very helpful for the new folks as the experienced administrators were able to answer questions about their daily experiences with the program.

When school started in the fall, Hope and I spent one day visiting each new school to prep general education teachers on the program with a 30-minute presentation on how PASS works. We covered six schools in one day!

Hope and Jim are wonderful resources! I can't say enough about them—they offered us a lot of support, especially at the beginning when we needed it most!

SCS: What were some of the obstacles you had to deal with?

Trish: I guess the biggest obstacle was teacher resistance. But if you have the backing of your administration and good training in place, you can get it started. And when teachers see that PASS teachers are there to support them, they are happy to work with the program and the students.

Once in a while, we'll work with an administrator or teachers who view the PASS room as a discipline center. They just want to send misbehaving students there to keep them contained, like a detention room. In this case, the PASS teacher has to step it up and educate them about the true purpose of the PASS room, which is to teach students the skills they need to succeed in the mainstream classroom.

SCS: What does it look like now? What are the results for teachers, students, and administration? How does PASS affect each group?

Trish: Everything snowballed after that second year. Now, the program is districtwide and people are saying, "Yeah, this works!" They can see the difference the program makes. The district has even implemented a PASS program in our DAEP (Disciplinary Alternative Education Program), because on occasion a PASS student is referred, so it makes sense to have a PASS program there. It made me very happy when they did that. It shows the importance of the program in supporting the students.

Word of our success is spreading through word of mouth and networking at conferences. Now, other districts in the Houston area visit us to see the program in action.

We have many success stories from kids and teachers. I just received a letter from a mom who wrote to thank us for getting her son into PASS. He struggles with anxiety and mood swings that make it difficult for him to deal with school tasks. He was placed in PASS and since then he has thrived. Mom is very happy and so are we!

I have students telling me that now they feel valued, like they have something to offer. They say, "Before, I was stuck in the AB room where the teacher just chit-chats. They weren't showing me anything that made sense. Now, teachers are showing me what I have to do and helping me do it, and I get it!"

We had a student at the beginning who came to us from another district where he had been placed in AB. We put him in PASS. After two years, he was able to graduate with his class and went on to become a Marine. He is making something of his life and giving something back to his community.

Also, two of our PASS teachers received the honor of Teacher of the Year from their campuses. One of them became a finalist for the district Teacher of the Year!

PASS teachers spend a lot of time with their students monitoring their behaviors, working with them on changing. They become advocates for kids who, a lot of the time, don't have adults in their lives willing to stand for them. Having a mentor makes a major difference in a kid's life.

SCS: How do you keep it going? Who is involved? What about support from the district and building administrators?

Trish: Every year during the beginning-of-school inservice, PASS teachers give a 20-minute presentation to all of their general education teachers so they know what to expect. Some of these teachers have heard this before, but there are enough new teachers and administrators that we feel it is important to the health of PASS programs.

Also, it is important to note that our PASS teachers are behavior specialists. They are trained to work with this student population and to help general education teachers deal with behavior issues in their classrooms. Our teachers see them as supports, so they are happy to keep PASS going.

A key to starting and sustaining the PASS process is training. We had a district come visit our program and they loved it—wanted to implement the program in their district. But they never contacted Jim and Hope to arrange training for their staffs. They called me in December wanting to start their program in January. This is a program that you can't do on a whim—it takes planning and training to pull it off successfully.

The keys to keeping it going are strong commitment and support from district administration and ongoing informational training for administrators and teachers.

SCS: What do you like best about PASS?

Trish: The flexibility. Also, it's data driven, and it's what is best for kids!

Every campus has its own personality and every kid has different needs. PASS offers guidelines that teachers can use to implement their programs, but each program is unique and is tailored to help those kids that it serves. PASS is designed to serve everyone and can be successful for all of these kids.

The key with PASS is that PASS teachers are teaching valuable and necessary behaviors to kids who often don't have a clue about how to behave. That doesn't happen in an AB room. And think about it, if you put a bunch of behaviorally challenged students together in a room, what happens? I really like that PASS is about changing behavior!

Another thing I like about being involved in PASS is the sense of community. Just recently we had a PASS supervisors meeting. All the supervisors of PASS programs in the area got together to share ideas, success stories, and information. We learn a lot from each other this way. In all my years in AB classrooms, this kind of collaboration never happened. Here in Katy we also have PASS teacher meetings 3–4 times a year.

Oh, and did I mention Hope and Jim? The training and support they give is invaluable!

SCS: Do you have any complaints about PASS?

Trish: Not really.

Well, sometimes kids will get too comfortable in the PASS room. They don't want to leave. So we switch to meeting them in the library or cafeteria to get them used to the idea of being outside of their comfort zones. But that's not really a complaint.

This isn't really a complaint either—just a reality. Sometimes we get kids who don't make it in PASS. PASS works for a lot of kids, but not everybody. We've got a student population of roughly 59,000 at Katy. And we have 15 kids in our Behavior Transition Program, which is more of a self-contained program. These kids didn't succeed in PASS, but we haven't given up on them. They are still connected to PASS. Their PASS teachers visit them frequently and keep looking for ways to transition them back into PASS so that they can learn how to succeed in their regular classrooms. We can't give up!

SCS: What would you tell administrators and teachers who want to implement PASS?

Trish: It takes two years to get it grounded. And the work never stops—it's a work in progress all the time. But the hard work that goes into it is worth it, too. It has to be a team effort from us all, supporting each other!

One building administrator told me he had three kids who ate him alive. They kept him busy all year long, in and out of his office. After one year in PASS, he had to deal with one of those kids only one time!

Another administrator told me that his school had 30 students in the AB classroom. After one year of PASS, they had reduced that number to 14.

The program works!

SCS: Anything you want to add?

Trish: PASS is everything I ever wanted for kids and it's working! You can't just throw away the key with these kids. If you do, in the best-case scenario they will end up with no job or in a low-paying, low-skill job with little room for success. And that's not giving back to the community or helping society much. These kids have talents and skills that we just throw away when we stick them in a room and don't give them the tools they need to make it. PASS is a much better alternative!