School system officials hold town hall with teachers
Issues such as discipline, morale, testing raised
School discipline, morale and testing were among the top concerns voiced by teachers and other certificated professionals during a town hall meet- ing with school system officials and the Charles County Board of Educa- tion Monday afternoon.
The meeting was the second held by the school board this year; last week, the board met with non-certificated staff, such as instructional assistants, maintenance workers and food services workers.
Melissa Williams, physical education teacher at Milton S. Somers Middle
School, said there is a lack of real consequences in the discipline ma- trix, likening discipline to fouls in basketball.
“I go to the [Education Association of Charles County], and they say our hands are tied, and they are — to this discipline matrix,” Williams said. “I’m asking you to please bring the fouls back into the game so that we can instill the integrity and safety of the education of our children.”
Williams said the lack of consequences for students misbehaving leads to a general erosion in the classroom.
“If effective consequences are not in place for their actions, the students actually being punished are those trying to learn in class,” Williams said. “We are creating a generation that has absolutely no respect for authority.”
School board chairman Michael Lukas said the school system is looking at its discipline matrix.
“The issue becomes what we’re able to do; expect to see something in the next couple of months,” Lukas said. “It has to be done in a way that is equitable across the system, and that is something the board will have to figure out.”
Mary McCauley, a pre-kindergarten teacher at T.C. Martin Elementa- ry School, said she feels the county has lowered its standards in terms of discipline.
“We have allowed chil- dren to get by with doing things without any con- sequences,” McCauley said. “When a child tells a teacher to [expletive] off, that is ridiculous. A par- ent should be called right then and there.”
Board member Jennifer Abell said she has heard complaints about lack of discipline.
“I will not let this go, I will continue to follow up,” Abell said.
Linda McLaughlin, president of the Education Association of Charles County, said she has been hearing more and more about teachers being threatened.
“That does concern us, because no one should be afraid to go to work, no one should be afraid to walk through the hall- ways, and that is something that needs to be addressed,” McLaughlin said.
According to school system suspension reports, suspensions have declined over the past nine years from a high of 4,824 suspensions in the 2009-2010 school year to a low of 2,757 in 20142015.
Data from the 20112012 school year was not made available.
Last year, 2,917 students were suspended. In the current school year, as of the end of January, roughly the midpoint of the year, 1,236 students had been suspended.
Superintendent Kim- berly Hill said there has been no direction to stop suspending students.
“The first order of busi- ness in Charles County Public Schools is a safe and orderly environment; that has not changed,” Hill said. “We have not, and will not, tell princi- pals to limit suspending kids if it’s appropriate to suspend kids.”
Hill said that oftentimes, suspensions are seen as a reward for bad behavior, because the student gets out of coming to school.
“They don’t change behavior, and what we’re looking for — with your help, and with parents’ help — is that inter- vention that is going to help teach kids how to behave appropriately,” Hill said. “We need to work on those soft of- fenses, obstruction and disrespect, and figure out how to help our kids learn how to manage in a structured environment without throwing them out, because if you throw them out, they’re not going to learn.”
Jana Heyl, drama teacher at Maurice McDonough High School, suggested the school system look into “reverse suspensions.”
“[Reverse suspensions are] where the parents have to come and sit with them through the school day, if their kid’s being an egghead too many times,” Heyl said.
Veronica McFadden, art teacher at Gale-Bailey Elementary School, said there is a general feeling that there’s a lack of appreciation for teachers and teaching.
“There’s a lot of morale issues at many schools, and it is af fecting how we do our jobs,” McFadden said.
McLaughlin said she is pleased at the increased teacher mentoring the school system has been providing.
“Early career educa- tors leave the profession because they do not feel they are being supported. That’s the number one reason, it’s not the money,” McLaughlin said. “Adding more mentors will help that.”
Donna Dillon, speech language pathologist at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School, ex- pressed concern over the hiring and retention of speech language pa- thologists and occupa- tional therapists.
“Sometimes I’m afraid we’re going to disappear. Despite efforts of central office, we have a yearly turnover of about a third of our SLPs,” Dillon said. “I believe we have a department dedicated to our students, but the weight of our case loads, the paperwork, the meetings and the special education mandates can crush that dedication.”
Jacob Gerding, library media specialist at Ber- ry Elementary School, said he is concerned about a lack of equity in special subject staffing at schools.
“At Berry, we have one vocal music teacher, one technology facilitator and one media specialist that are directly responsible for 945 students,” Gerding said. “There are elementary schools that have fewer students than Berry that have two vocal music teachers on their staff. I’ve noticed other special area teacher disparities as well.”
Hill said the school system does look at staffing. But with limited resources, the school system has to make some difficult decisions in terms of reallocating staff.
“Many times that means a staff member has to be taken from another building,” Hill said.
April Davis, life skills teacher at Berry Elementary, spoke of the frustration she feels in administering state-mandated assessments to her students, who are on a non-diploma track.
“Many of them are learning to brush their teeth, tie their shoes, count to five, write their laundry, make lunch — those are the accomplishments we celebrate,” Davis said. “I feel like, they should be working on the goals on their IEPs, and that’s what I’m held accountable for, but yet, the state of Maryland requires that I sit with these children and subject them to testing, wasting three weeks of their time, when they could be in the classroom, with me, learning social skills or being involved in other things. The testing is truly ridiculous, and it frustrates me.”
Deputy Superintendent Amy Hollstein said the matter is out of the school system’s control, noting that the change needs to happen in Annapolis.
“We 100 percent agree with you,” Hollstein said, adding she testified last year before the General Assembly to change the testing requirement for life skills students. “The only way to change this is, we need to have our voices heard, because this is not the best use of time for our students.”
Margot Savoy, an English teacher at Mattawoman Middle School, suggested the school system have town hall meetings with teachers more often than once a year.
“I promise you, we’ll get together with you this year,” Lukas replied.