WUSD considering new character education programs

By Shawn Byrne

Sun Editor

The Arizona Department of Education being disappointed with the character education program “Character Counts” is no longer awarding grants to school districts around the state like Wickenburg, which has some school districts looking for a replacement program.

“We have been a Character Counts school for years,” said Debbie Hodgkiss, Wickenburg Unified School District executive director of educational services. “Unfortunately that program hasn’t shown it is making a difference. It’s one we can’t get funded.”

WUSD Governing Board approved at its Jan. 14 meeting two district employees to attend a training conference for a program titled “Capturing Kids’ Heart.” The total cost of the trip is $1,450, and the district received a registration scholarship valued at $1,000.

Capturing Kids’ Heart’s mission is to build relationships and processes that bring out the best in people. The Flippen Group, program facilitators, promotes that when kids and teachers are connected, there is a significant positive transformational effect on the five key indicators of school performance: 1) decreased discipline referrals; 2) increased student achievement; 3) increased attendance rates; 4) increased graduation rates; and 5) increased teacher satisfaction.

“It’s interesting,” Hodgkiss said. “It’s about building relationships.”

The district has been exploring other options that would provide positive behavior intervention support for the past two years. Capturing Kids’ Hearts is only one of those options the district is pursuing. Hodgkiss said the Camp Verde and Payson school districts have been enrolled in the program.

“It has not only shown good success in the behaviors, but in academics as well,” she said.

Hassayampa Elementary Principal Carissa Hershkowitz and Vulture Peak Middle School Principal Jennifer Moran are the district employees scheduled to attend the conference Feb. 24-26 in Seattle. WUSD began exploring Capturing Kids’ Heart after several district administrators were in the audience of a presentation at an earlier conference.

“I’d like to have two principals see it before we decide,” Hodgkiss said. “We need everybody on board for something like this.”

Grant funds would pay for the $45,000 annual cost. There won’t be  district money spent on the program, and Hodgkiss said WUSD couldn’t afford the cost if it had to come out of pocket.

“We’re trying to take advantage of this opportunity,” she said. “At this point, we are just exploring this one option.”

The educational services director said the district is looking for a program that reinforces treating others with respect and being accountable to that.

“Our No. 1 thing is students walk away from school with employable skills,” Hodgkiss said. “We want our kids to be successful in life. It doesn’t matter the profession; you need to be able to behave well.”

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