Bright Spots: PBIS in Alternative Secondary Settings

Posted on December 12, 2010

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Utah schools are no strangers to implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). The Utah State Office Board of Education passed Board Rule 277-609 stating that it is the school district’s responsibility to: “develop and implement a board approved comprehensive district plan for school discipline. The plan shall include: written standards for student behavior expectations; effective instructional practices for teaching student expectations; systematic methods for reinforcement of expected behavior and uniform methods for corrections of student behavior; uniform methods for annual evaluation of efficiency and effectiveness; ongoing staff development.”

Since that time many schools, districts and charters are making PBIS part of their school culture.  A number of Utah schools are implementing PBIS as part of the Utah Multi-Tier System of Supports (UMTSS formally known as ABC-UBI) Initiative (73 schools for the 2010-2011 school year). While the majority of schools are traditional elementary and secondary sites, this article will focus on the insight gained from three alternative secondary settings, Blue Peak High School in Tooele County School District, Horizonte in Salt Lake City School District and East Hollywood High, a Charter school in West Valley.

For this article, I spent a few hours at each school talking to the administrator and building coordinator (PBIS team leaders) about the barriers and facilitators to implementing positive behavior support in their settings. The schools’ involvement with UMTSS ranged from two years to four years. At East Hollywood High, students complete an application process to attend the school. Their student population is comprised of students who have an interest in film and students who were not successful in a mainstream high school setting. At Horizonte and Blue Peak, students are referred to the school from the other high schools in their districts. The administrators talked about the challenging behaviors they see in their student population and that many of their students have a long history of academic and behavioral failure at school. They have to change the way their students view the school environment and the staff. All of the sites encourage their staff to adopt a 4:1 positive-negative interaction ratio with their students by implementing school-wide positive reinforcement programs. Mindi Holmdahl, an administrator at Horizonte, talked about the change she sees in parents when they are notified of the good things their adolescents are doing at school, as many parents have never experienced that before.

Another challenge faced by Horizonte and Blue Peak is the number of special programs housed at each of their schools. These range from adult education to teen parents to ESL classes and vocational programs. Trying to get all programs on the same page definitely presents a challenge. At Horizonte, in addition to all the programs, they also have satellite sites. One way they address this challenge is by making all of their PBIS materials available on-line for all staff to have easy access to the materials and information needed for implementation. All schools talked about the challenge of finding time to meet as a team and attend trainings together. There are a few trainings a year which require the entire team to attend, however, these schools have a small staff and most of the staff members are on the team, so it’s impossible to send the entire team to a training. The dissemination of information presents a challenge to the few educators who represent their team at the trainings. Nicole Broberg from East Hollywood High shared that the team can really see the fruit of their labors when they hear all staff members starting to use the common language of positive behavior interventions in their school. Mark Ernst, a Blue Peak administrator, talked about the benefit of having all teachers on the same page when it comes to behavioral correction. Having a consistent discipline program and using data to make decisions points everyone in the same direction at the school.

While the implementation of PBIS in an alternative setting may take longer than at a traditional school and they may face different challenges than other schools, all team leaders and administrators were excited to talk about the positive changes they are seeing in students, staff and parents. They have great plans for the direction they need to go, and are using data to make decisions and creating positive school environments for some of the most challenging student populations. They are creating environments where students feel connected and successful. These schools are doing amazing things and it’s a pleasure to work with them as participants in the UMTSS initiative. They are truly bright spots. To watch some of the video highlights of the school interviews with the administrators and team leaders, visit

Author: Heidi Mathie Mucha, Program Specialist, Utah Personnel Development Specialist (UPDC)