Background: Federal zero-tolerance policies require the exclusion of students exhibiting violent behaviors, with the intent of maintaining a safe school environment for other students to learn. In California, legislation has been passed that provides for the placement of expelled students in community day schools (CDSs).
Purpose: This study examines the daily practices of teachers in one CDS in order to begin to build a literature base about these contexts. Drawing from the theory of pastoral care, the study examines the way teachers implement casework, classroom management, and curriculum and instruction.
Setting: Data collection for this study occurred at Vista Hermosa Community Day School (VHCDS), which serves at least 100 district students throughout the course of a given school year and represents a typical urban CDS. During the semester that data collection occurred, enrollment ranged from 21 to 52 students.
Participants: All the teachers, administrators, counselors, and support staff at Vista Hermosa agreed to participate. In comparison with the district and state, students at Vista Hermosa are disproportionately male and from low-income, ethnic minority backgrounds. Conversely, teachers are disproportionately Caucasian, though also disproportionately male.
Research Design and Data Collection: This study used a multiple case study approach by first analyzing individual teachers’ practices at one urban CDS and then generalizing across classrooms to draw conclusions. Seventy-five hours of school-based observations, semistructured interviews with 9 teachers, 17 students, 14 counselors and administrators, and relevant documents provided data for analysis.
Data Analysis: Codes for this study drew directly from the theoretical framework of pastoral care. Case reports for each teacher provided material for interpretive analyses. The creation of narrative case summaries finalized the data reduction process and then became material for cross-case analyses.
Findings: Data show that casework, curriculum, and classroom management mutually reinforce each other in educating persistently disciplined students at this school. This finding is significant because it suggests that teachers’ success or failure in CDS contexts depends on their attention to, and successful implementation of, all three areas of practice. Typically, each of these constructs stands alone in discussions regarding teaching and learning.
Conclusions: This study suggests that CDS teachers need access to high-quality, relevant professional development tailored to the CDS context. Providing such support as a prevention strategy to teachers in comprehensive schools rather than after students commit disciplinary offenses may successfully preclude their exclusion from comprehensive schools.