As a result, "the environment has changed.... [Students] are focused; there's not the typical cutting [or] the student conflicts [or] the disrespect of teachers."
Suspensions not only dropped by 51 percent last year, but they continue to fall, and Bunche eliminated disproportionality in suspensions for African-Americans.
Among Oakland's other strategies is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which has shown success around the country by having schools set up common expectations, give students positive feedback, and then step in with intensive support for those having trouble meeting the standards.
Nineteen OUSD schools received awards for reducing overall suspensions – and reducing by at least 20 percent suspensions of African-American boys – between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.
Time is also set aside for teachers, principals, even security officers to learn to respond more effectively to students, ideally before a suspendable offense happens.
"We've become reliant on distancing as a way to manage conflict. That's what a suspension is – I can't manage you, so I move you away," says Barbara McClung, OUSD'S coordinator of behavioral health initiatives. "Because of the cultural and class differences between our students and our educational system, there's a lot of conflict, [so] we have to build our capacity to use other means to resolve those conflicts."
Offense is in the eye of the beholder?
Among the most common reasons students are sent out of class at Oakland High School are disruption and defiance – refusing to participate, using profanity, arguing with the teacher or another student, or even walking around class, ignoring teacher instruction to do otherwise.
Within the first 15 minutes of one recent class, a teacher at Oakland High kicked out six of the seven African-American students in the class for disruption and defiance.
An assistant principal talked with the students about their behavior – but also sat down with the teacher to encourage him to try to engage his students in the class, rather than being so quick to remove them.