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J.B. Tuttle
J.B. Tuttle

Tuttle studies safe schools, effects of building on students' learning

By Rebecca Arrington

Major issues facing public schools today include safety, curriculum content and overcrowded, inadequate buildings.

U.Va. doctoral student James Brooks Tuttle II has spent much of his time in the Curry School of Education studying these dilemmas of secondary schools nationwide.

Tuttle is a research assistant at Curry School's Thomas Jefferson Center for Educational Design, where he has been involved with two studies -- the safe schools initiative and the effects of the school building's condition on student achievement. Through his graduate research, he is "trying to identify schools that are comfortable, efficient environments that improve student achievement, and that are moving proactively rather than reactively to being safe schools."

All schools are vulnerable to violence and need prevention, intervention and management strategies to deal with problems should they arise, Tuttle said. In Virginia, contingency plans have been developed, special personnel hired, training provided, new policies, programs and practices adopted, and alternative schools created for chronically disruptive and dangerous students. The Virginia Secondary Schools Safety Study instituted by U.Va.'s Thomas Jefferson Center aims to understand how well the state's efforts are working.

One safe-school model Tuttle discovered not too far from Grounds was the Walker Middle School's Civility Program. He obtained permission from the school to collect data on the program for a year. Elements of the pilot he found effective included "using the first week of school to talk not about academics, but about how to treat others and how to handle negativity, then export these ideas into the community," he said. The success of any safe-school program "will be predicated on how much the community reinforces these efforts outside of school," he said.

Currently, Tuttle is the lead researcher on a study of Clarke County's renovation of Johnson-Williams Middle School.

The improvements include adding several rooms with natural light and working windows, a new exterior fašade and air conditioning system, and upgrading the library. Tuttle is evaluating "the effect of a building's condition on student achievement ... how you feel about where you are and how the community perceives you [for being where you are] having an effect on your achievement. It's hard to prove but entirely logical," said Tuttle, who is trying to quantify these factors.

After getting a bachelor's degree in English and French and a master's degree in English from James Madison University, Tuttle taught high school English, SAT verbal prep and journalism for 10 years before entering U.Va.'s doctoral program in curriculum and instruction in 1997. He will complete his Ph.D. soon and plans to teach at the college level. As a professor, he hopes to create for himself a position "as a link between state resources and schools most in need of those resources," something that doesn't exist now, he said.


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