McDaniel, UA Office to Expand Positive Behavior Services in Alabama

By David Miller

Dr. Sara McDaniel, executive director of the Alabama Positive Behavior Support Office at UA, leads a PBIS training session for K-12 teachers in West Alabama on Nov. 28.

Belief. Fidelity. Sustainability.

Schools must achieve each of these milestones to successfully implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, an alternative, multi-tiered bend on student discipline that aims to better emotional, social and academic outcomes for all students through positive reinforcement.

Dr. Sara McDaniel, associate professor in the department of special education and multiple abilities in The University of Alabama’s College of Education and executive director of the Alabama Positive Behavior Supports Office, has seen the formula work for 115 rural and metro Alabama schools where she’s helped implement PBIS.

“The really impressive thing is that all of this hard work has happened through word of mouth,” McDaniel said. “We are routinely contacted by schools and districts who are either interested or asking questions about PBIS, even if they don’t have the funding to begin their program.”

The Alabama State Department of Education recently partnered with the office to expand and strengthen its PBIS framework, training and support to reduce problem behavior that could ultimately remove students from the classroom.

“What the State Department noticed is the demonstrated improvement in urban, rural and alternative schools,” McDaniel said. “The collaborations and our work, speaking for itself, have shifted the state’s focus toward PBIS in the way they’re allocating resources, focus and time, which is exciting.”

Greg DeJarnett, education administrator for ALSDE and state coordinator of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, said that roughly 75 percent of schools in the state have been previously exposed to PBIS, but an expired grant narrowed the state’s system of support staff and compromised the most critical component of PBIS: ongoing support.

“To attend our annual conference and go back with the awareness is great, but the biggest challenge to teachers and administrators is ongoing technical assistance and the resources for information to move forward with fidelity,” DeJarnett said. “Dr. McDaniel’s expertise and commitment to provide that is a must. Whether it’s through our partnership with UA or online support or teleconferencing, you have to continue to look at and review best practices and stay current with the research.”

McDaniel hopes to leverage successes in schools like Wenonah High School to help implement PBIS in other schools in Alabama.

McDaniel also serves on the state’s 30-member advisory committee to reduce dropout rates and reshape school discipline. The committee, comprised of education, mental health and public health officials across Alabama, has conducted five regional training sessions with K-12 teachers and administrators around the state. The committee is also tasked with creating a state PBIS guidebook that addresses codes of conduct, reward systems and classroom management strategies.

McDaniel and her APBSO staff recently completed successful implementation of PBIS’ first tier, a catch-all system to teach and reinforce positive behavior for all students, in Birmingham and Huntsville city school systems. Once McDaniel and her staff achieved fidelity in each district, schools were able to sustain their own programs and begin analyzing data to address issues specific to each school.

“Huntsville was trying to improve disproportionality, which they have started doing,” McDaniel said. “They’re trying to get back in proportion the rate of minority students versus the rate receiving disciplinary action. When it started, it was way out of proportion. Office referrals, suspensions and expulsions are down and more support is available for students who need it.

“The Birmingham City School district is implementing Tier 1 with fidelity. There’s some variation – some schools just took off with it, and some are moving slower. They’ve all seen decreases in referrals, but also in certain types of infractions, like aggression and violent infractions.”

McDaniel hopes to use systems and schools in which PBIS has been successfully implemented to serve as model demonstration sites.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.