Since its inception three years ago with a pilot program at Santa Barbara Junior High School, the general sentiment toward the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s so-called restorative approach to student discipline and behavioral issues has been positive. However, the warm feelings produced as traditional punishments are replaced by dialoguing, problem-solving, respect, and reparation haven’t been quantified. That’s about to change. Starting next month, focus groups on 10 campuses will tally attendance, suspension, and expulsion rates while gathering feedback from students, teachers, and administrators about the boons and challenges of the program. The evaluation is slated to take about three months.
Meanwhile, for the first time in 11 years, what to do with the district’s slice of the Santa Barbara backcountry was up for discussion at this week’s board meeting. Surrounded by the San Rafael Wilderness, the district has owned the 100-acre Happy Canyon for more than 50 years, but according to testimony Tuesday night, the property has gone mostly untouched. The Board of Education’s day trip to the land last summer has prompted a range of ideas, from campgrounds for troubled youth to partnerships in outdoor learning with neighboring districts. While some lamented Happy Canyon’s remoteness and 75-minute drive from town, Boardmember Pedro Paz pointed out that the district is sending a student group all the way to Vietnam for 12 days in June. Owning Happy Canyon, he added, “is an incredible opportunity.”