School sys­tem of­fi­cials hold town hall with teach­ers

Is­sues such as dis­ci­pline, morale, test­ing raised

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

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.

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