“I want to leave parents understanding that their voices are so loud, and students are the most important people of this entity,” said Watson Chapel School District Culture and Climate Specialist Dovie Burl, who will be resigning from the district as of June 29.
“I appreciate parents allowing us to take a work of art (their children), and turn it into a masterpiece,” Burl said.
Burl, originally from Little Rock, will be joining Arkansas State University July 1st as their program manager for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, where she will coach PBIS teams on implementing PBIS in schools.
Burl came to WCSD in 2015 shortly after WCSD Superintendent Connie Hathorn arrived. Hathorn, too, has announced that this is his last year at the district.
“Doc’s (Hathorn) goals and objectives were so aligned with my own,” Burl said. “I knew at that time that I was supposed to be here.”
Burl started as the district’s Dean of Students until the Department of Justice required that a Climate and Culture Specialist be enacted within the district.
In 1970, it was determined that black and minority students were disciplined more than others at Watson Chapel schools.
Based on discipline data, the DOJ made a visit in November 2015 to WCSD to discuss the number of disciplinary actions against blacks and minority students, including Special Education students, compared to other students. At that time corporal punishment was taken out of the district as a means of punitive punishment. A consent decree was established with mandates for the district to implement change. Those changes include implementing PBIS as well as Restorative Justice Practices and building stronger relationships with students through RTI (Response to Intervention).
Burl, who believes in the restorative justice process, said that PBIS is a framework for how to deal with behavioral issues. In her new position at ASU, she will be responsible for making sure that all things are in compliance, making sure all complaints are forwarded to the DOJ, and making sure that everyone is aware of what the district is doing behaviorally.
Burl will service the Pulaski County, Watson Chapel and Dollarway School Districts, with a few more being added at a later time.
Though Burl will still be able to service WCSD, she said that her resignation is bittersweet because she won’t have the day-to-day, hands-on experience with her “babies,” which consists of home visits, court appearances, or simply sitting down and conversing with students about how their day is going.
“I feel like we are leaving the district in a really good place,” Burl said. “Whoever comes behind us will be able to pick up and continue the work that we’ve done.”
Burl said she is proud of what has been accomplished in WCSD since she has been a part of the family.
She said that the district created a family-like environment with teachers, students and staff. Behavior interventionists have been placed in each school, PBIS coaches and teams have been placed on each campus, a behavior matrix has been implemented, three and a half out of five schools have implemented PBIS, leading to the district being in compliance with the DOJ for the first year. The district has also been able to satisfy differences with parents, which lead to positive outcomes, suspension rates have decreased, and the district has set the same R.O.A.R. (Respect, Organized, Attentive, Responsible) expectations at each school across the district.
“If this doesn’t continue when we leave, DOJ will be around for a long time,” she said.
Burl explained how she has established more relationships than she could have ever imagined while being in WCSD. She said that building relationships with students and parents “lets them know they can trust you, and they will then support you in every way.”
“Building relationships is the key to every good outcome,” Burl said. “You cannot teach a student who does not trust you or who thinks that you do not care for them.”
Burl said that when she first came to WCSD she made it a priority for the teachers and staff to know and understand the type of students they are serving. She took the teachers and staff on a tour of the bus routes where the students are picked up so they could see and experience where the students live and know the day-to-day issues the students are faced with.
“It was an eye-opener, and the conversations that came out of that bus ride was mind-blowing,” she said. “They didn’t know that their students lived in those areas, or that they were serving low socio-economic status students or students who were in poverty as they saw.”
Burl has gone into so many homes in an effort to better understand and relate to her “babies,” realizing that there are so many layers that have to be pulled back just to get students to a place of learning.
“They deal with so many issues, such as being the head of their home and helping raise younger siblings, sometimes not being able to get sleep at night due to having to take care of adult responsibilities, and sometimes the students may not have a parent in their home at all, and it has been unbelievable,” she said.
When asked what led to her passion for helping students, Burl said, “We’re all responsible for rearing other children, and there was a special teacher who invested in my children.”
She went on to say, “I never know whose doorstep my children will end up on and I don’t know who will have to care for me one day, so I always give others the same love and energy that I give my own biological children.”
Burl also mentioned that she is highly inspired by the resiliency her mother, who had five children at age 19, displayed.
“My mother is a very strong woman and she made it look so effortless,” Burl said. “She taught me how to do a whole lot with so little.”
She went on to mention the impact that her choir teacher, the late Shelton “Fessa” McGhee, had on her life while in college at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“He was a teacher, a father figure, and a role model for many of us,” Burl said. “Our professors gave us so much love and compassion and you couldn’t help but take it and pass it on by continuing to teach and reach others.”
Burl is looking forward to building more relationships and increasing parental involvement in the additional districts she will now be serving in her new position.
“A lot has changed, but these babies aren’t going anywhere, and we can’t choose who we teach,” Burl said. “Schools will close and people will die, but the children will keep on coming.”
Burl said that her journey with WCSD has been a good run, “but I have to get ready for the next race because I am not finished yet.”