by Dr. Pelham Mead
My newest movie script tells the real story about my position as a Dean of Students at Kakiat Junior High school in Spring Valley, New York during the 1980’a. I was taking the sixth level administrative level certification program at SUNY New Paltz in 1984 and I needed a year as an administrative intern to complete the 23 credit course. I volunteered to take the empty Dean of Students position at Kakiat JHS. The Dean of Students was in charge of discipline and was one of the most hated jobs by students.
It is true that I had four windshields broken by angry students over a period of six years and that I did in fact have to take my 250cc Yamaha Enduro motorcycle to work in freezing temperatures and snow.
I change the climate of the discipline office by digitizing the process. Previously orange discipline folders were used for infractions by students, but the secretary in the office was to lazy to properly file the folders, so they ended up stacked on cabinets and tables. It was impossible to find any previous records of a student because of this. I used an Apple computer with the software program that set up a database. As each student came into my office I typed in the student’s name, infraction and disposition and notes. When I wanted past information about a student, I only had to search their name in the database to print out their file. This method was so successful that eventually the district stopped using the orange file folders.
The funny things about being a Dean of Students were subtle such as trying to find something like a pen in a desk full of water pistols, knives, pea shooters, sling shots and other things taken from students. Throwing the water pistols and knives in the dumpster is a true story about how I made the mistake of throwing the water pistols and knives out, only to find out students were diving into the dumpster to get the knives and water pistols.
Community service was a method of discipline in which students picked up papers on the fields or raked leaves instead of serving time in the in-school suspension room doing nothing all day. The down side to the practice was I had to be out with the students watching everything they did and freezing to death in the process in the Winter. I drank a lot of coffee in those days.
The excused student give when caught in the act could fill a book. I listed some of the outrageous excuses I heard over six years. I taught a full five period teaching load in Phys. Ed. and three extra periods in the Dean’s office for six years. Eventually, I moved on to Columbia University for a Doctoral Degree in Educational administration rather than a 6th level certificate. I had only two credits left in the 6th level program when I transferred to Columbia.
Humor is found in different ways as a Dean of Students. The faculty loved me because I brought discipline and order to the system. I also did away with the in-school suspension room and replaced it with Community service. That meant those teachers on that duty were free to do their own thing.
When I look back on my six years as a Dean, I realize that the Community service program had far reaching effects. The custodians never had to rake or pick up papers outdoors. The Assistant Principal got lazier as I did most of his job. Students stopped cutting class to avoid community service. Student, “he said, she said arguments,” were settled by mediation using student mediators which were trained by a professional mediator. Good discipline can have a good effect on the climate of a school and that is a good thing.