Jennifer Woods, second from right, speaks during a meeting at the Whiteside Building in April.

If you go

What: Restorative Practices Workshop

When: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. today

Where: Hampton Inn at Hamilton Place

Admission: Free

More information:

Black students represent 31 percent of the population in the Hamilton County Schools system, yet they account for more than 60 percent of students suspended.

And it's not just black students who get suspended, but students of all ethnicities, said Jennifer Woods, the Chattanooga Hamilton County NAACP's education chairwoman.

"Too many kids are being suspended across the board," she said. "You can teach a test, but having knowledge does you no good when you can't manage to get along with people."

The local NAACP suggests that the school system implement restorative practices to teach conflict resolution and keep more children in school. The organization has been hosting an International Institute of Restorative Practices workshop this week. Today is the final day.

Steve Korr, an instructor from the Pennsylvania-based International Institute for Restorative Practices graduate school, led the workshop.

He said the goal is to improve behavior and academics by offering an alternative method of conflict resolution.

"How is the current system working for you?" Korr said he asks administrators he's trying to interest in restorative practices.

He said most people respond with concerns about not being able to get through a curriculum because of classroom disruptions, concerns that their voice is not heard and concerns about the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, in which students with behavioral problems eventually go to jail instead of attending college or getting jobs.

Then Korr offers tips for restorative practices, the practice of changing student behavior by developing relationships with the students.

"Human beings are built to be in relationship, in connection to one another," he said.

He spoke Wednesday at the Hampton Inn near Hamilton Place mall to 20 educators and juvenile justice workers from throughout the state. The group also included NAACP members and educators from Illinois.

Korr said the International Institute for Restorative Practices is the first graduate school in the nation totally dedicated to the social science of restorative practices.

Restorative practices looks at the practice of purposefully establishing relationships, bonds for social capital. It improves academic and athletic outcomes and reduces suspensions and expulsions, he said.

"We've got to do something different," he said.

The catch, he said, is getting schools to fully try it. It's difficult because the program training is four days, a difficult amount of time for a teacher to be out of the classroom. And then once a school system accepts the practice, it still may get altered if the school administration or personnel changes.

Teachers in one school in Chattanooga have been through the training, but Karen Glenn said she's not sure if they've been able to implement the practices.

Glenn, with Students Taking A Right Stand, already participated in the training and said her goal is to train others.

Nobody wants to see students suspended, she said.

"Test scores are crucial, but we can't boost test scores if students are not present," she said.

Korr said 60-70 percent of schools that have implemented restorative practices experienced a reduction in suspensions and improved academic scores.

With restorative practices, the needs of the teacher and students are addressed, he said.

Instead of removing a student when he misbehaves, the practice involves working to develop a relationship with the student and allow him to hear how his action affected other people and to be a part of correcting the wrong that he did.

Korr will host another workshop in Nashville Feb. 29 to March 3.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at