Newton County classroom cameras help improve teacher performance, student behavior

COVINGTON — A combination of technology and a concentrated focus on positive behavior have made a significant dent in the number of school discipline problems at Clements Middle School.

Joy Scavella, principal of Clements, said the number of discipline referrals in the classroom has declined significantly since the school installed a new camera and software system that allows teachers to record classroom activities.

“In the month of October 2012, we had 88 disciplinary referrals. This year in October, so far we have had 10,” Scavella said.

Part of the credit for this decline in behavioral problems — which include any infraction listed in the student handbook, such as fighting, classroom disruption or disrespectful behavior — is the new ViewPath camera system and Safari Montage software, she said.

The Newton County School System purchased 552 ViewPath cameras for about $2 million with SPLOST money and installed them at the beginning of the school year in all the classrooms at Newton High School and certain classrooms in the other two high schools, five middle schools and the Newton College and Career Academy.

Clements Middle School installed the new technology in all the classrooms of core academic teachers. The purpose is to provide educational resources to assist teachers with instruction. One way teachers can do this is by recording lessons or segments of lessons that they can then archive on Safari Montage and share with other teachers.

“They can share these lessons with other teachers in their professional learning communities and the teachers can learn from each other, critique and share ideas,” Scavella said. “When they were installed, they were to be used as an instructional tool to help with professional learning.”

In addition to that, though, the system has proved to be beneficial in other ways. First, Scavella, said, it is a great tool for school safety. Teachers wear microphones on a lanyard around their necks that are used in conjunction with the cameras to amplify their voices. The microphones have a button that they can hold that will signal an alarm to the front office if a problem arises in the classroom. At that point, administrators can access a live streaming video into the classroom to see what is happening.

“Some teachers have set this off accidentally and the next thing they know is three administrators and an officer show up at the classroom door,” Scavella said. “It’s a real eye-opener for the kids.”

And that’s how the other unintended benefit was discovered. Students’ behavior and respectful attitudes began to improve once they realized their actions may be recorded at any time.

The benefit isn’t isolated to Clements Middle School, either. During the Newton County Board of Education’s regular meeting Tuesday, Newton High School Principal Eclan David said one student learned this lesson the hard way.

He described how the school held a conference with a parent who was upset about disciplinary action taken against a student.

To the dismay of the parent, David said, “We were able to show the parent exactly what happened in the classroom.”

Scavella said the improved discipline rate at her school is not only due to the new technology, but also to a new behavioral program, known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, or PBIS.

“Last year, we implemented PBIS, which is a schoolwide plan focusing on positive behaviors to lower the discipline referral counts,” she said. “Coupled with PBIS, the cameras have definitely made a difference.”

Scavella said in May 2012 — before PBIS or the ViewPath camera system were implemented — the school logged 1,100 disciplinary referrals. In May 2013, after a year of operating under PBIS, the number of disciplinary referrals was cut by more than half with 513.

PBIS is coordinated by a team of staff members, from administrators and teachers to cafeteria and custodial staff, who developed a schoolwide behavioral matrix to cover every area of the building, Scavella said.

“Everyone understands the behavioral expectations and it is done to accentuate the positive. We try to stay away from ‘no’ and ‘don’t,’ and provide incentives when students exhibit positive behaviors.”

For example, a student who is seen by a Clements staff member holding a door for another person will be rewarded. Students receive “Pride Paws,” which are like tokens that can be exchanged for certain rewards of various value.

Some of the rewards include moving to the front of the line, receiving special seating at lunch, receiving special concession stand items, getting a homework pass, being allowed to wear a hat to school or receiving free entrance to a game or school dance.

“It was kind of funny when we first started, you would see students running to get the door for others, but then good habits started to take over.”

Gary Shattuck, director of technology with Newton County School System, said the safety component and improved behavior out of students are great benefits of the ViewPath system, but more importantly is the benefit to teachers.

“To me, from my perspective as a former teacher, the most important aspect of the cameras is that they allow teachers to be more effective at their job,” he said. “They will help create better teachers, of that I’m totally convinced.”

Shattuck pointed out that every high school, collegiate and professional sports team uses cameras to train and coach their players.

“They can see their performance themselves and view their mistakes. You don’t know your mistakes until you see them,” he said. “As a former athlete, I related to that and I knew it would improve teaching incredibly.”

This story was updated on Oct. 25, 2013.