James Huguley receives funding for the Just Discipline and Climate Project

Pitt Social Work and Education Professors Receive Grants To Implement School Discipline Reforms

University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work Assistant Professor James Huguley, along with Associate Professor of Psychology and Education Ming-Te Wang, have received $450,000 over two grants from The Heinz Endowments to implement a state-of-the art discipline system at the Woodland Hills 4-6 Intermediate School. The projects seeks to address needed discipline reforms by incorporating a program designed to: improve student-teacher relationships; cultivate teacher and staffs’ feelings of competence in building relationships and managing student behaviors; and ultimately too reduce suspension use and racial disparities in school suspensions.

Drs. Huguley and Wang’s research demonstrates the tremendous need for discipline reform not only in the Pittsburgh Public School District, but across the region more broadly. In Allegheny County, over 80% of school districts have a problem with overall suspension rates, racial disparities in suspension rates, or both. The team has also found that while the highest overall suspension rates tend to be found in higher-poverty districts, the greatest racial disparities are in mostly White districts. As a whole, African American students are being suspended at more than 5 times the rate of other students in Allegheny County.

These suspension rates are not without consequences for both the individual and the greater community. Dr. Huguley notes that “The overreliance on suspensions has been shown to have highly negative academic and economic costs, mainly due to the relationship between suspensions and dropouts.” Dr. Huguley notes that suspensions in just one cohort of Allegheny County students will cost the region approximately $30,000,000 across that cohort’s working-age time span. “And that’s just one cohort,” says Dr. Huguley. “In our region, school discipline reform is a very pressing issue from social justice, academic, and economic perspectives alike.”

In response, the Just Discipline and Climate Project seeks to address these issues by piloting an innovative, evidence-based model. This program uses policy reforms, relational school culture, and specialized restorative staff to quell the reliance on suspensions, particularly for students of color. The project began last year with pilot funding from The Heinz Endowments, and a second grant insures that the program will have 3-years of support.

The Heinz Endowments is devoted to the mission of helping our region prosper as a vibrant center of creativity, learning, and social, economic and environmental sustainability. Core to our work is the vision of a just community where all are included and where everyone who calls southwestern Pennsylvania home has a real and meaningful opportunity to thrive.