JAMESTOWN – Over 150 students, parents, teachers and other community members were at Jefferson Middle School last night to attend the Jamestown School Board meeting and share their concerns about ongoing student behavior problems throughout the district and the impact its having on the community.
The anticipated turnout came after a student lockdown incident on Nov. 6 at Jamestown High School when fighting broke out in the hallway and police had to be called in to help calm things down. In all, 27 different people spoke to the school board, spending over an hour and a half to share concerns and also request changes in school policy.
Among those who spoke was Jamestown Teachers Association president Stephanie Sardi, who said the administration needs to bring in more staff members who specialize in helping students with emotional and behavioral issues.
“As classroom teachers we are not in the position to meet the needs of students who should be seen by an interventionist on a regular basis,” Sardi said during her statement on behalf of the JTA. “The students we are talking about are those who are victims and witnesses of emotional, psychological and physical abuse. These students need to be identified and supported by the appropriate staff members at the very first sight of distress. So what is the purpose of us being here tonight? Our purpose is to let you know the Jamestown Teachers Association is going to continue to advocate for better work conditions for everyone – not just the teachers, but for the staff and students in each building.”
Another who spoke was parent Joanne Dean, who said that unless changes are made, more and more students who don’t have behavioral issues will leave the district.
“Our district seems to be doing a great job at providing resources needed to support the 25-30 percent of our student population that doesn’t graduate by keeping kids in school and increasing daily attendance. But this seems to be done at the expense of the 70-75 percent majority of our population. Those students are going to start leaving Jamestown Public Schools to attend a district where they will be the focus. We can’t afford for this to happen.”
Another parent who spoke was Alyssa Canfield, who said that even though her spouse works at Jamestown, her family is still considering having their children attend school outside of the district.
“We have four daughters in the Jamestown School district and one is in eighth grade and she is currently in AP classes. But we have had the conversation about putting money aside, because if our other children aren’t able to attend these classes, we will be paying to send them somewhere else. That should say a lot, coming from a teacher of the district who wants to send his kids somewhere else.”
Several students also spoke to the school board, including those Dylan Lydell, who said the district needs to bring back programs that provided better support for at risk students, like night school and other alternative educational programs.
“To be perfectly honest, most of the students who attend JHS are good. But it’s the other small percentage who don’t know how to show basic respect and behavior in school who ruin it for everyone else,” Lydell said. “We’re not exactly sure why the night O.S.S. and AP programs were ended, but the board stated it was due to budgetary constraints. The board also felt the night program wasn’t doing enough to help students academically. So instead they took the students who did not belong in a classroom because they can’t participate in basic behavioral practices and stuck them in with students who actually care about their studies. Behavior problems started almost immediately.”
Much of the concerns and criticisms from the public comment were aimed at both current high school principal Rosemary Bradley – who only joined the district at the start of this year, along with former school superintendent Tim Mains (who left the district in early 2017), who critics say was responsible for reducing or eliminating the consequences and punishment that had been used to deal with poor behavior. Some who spoke also voiced disappointment that their repeated concerns have fallen on deaf ears with the current administration.
“This is not a new problem. This problem was addressed and then ignored under old superintendent Tim Mains. Then almost two years ago, this was brought up with new superintendent Dr. Apthorpe during a meeting with JTA,” explained 4th grade teacher Joey Leone. “I thought JTA did a great job of presenting at the meeting. We talked about the problems of student behavior and discipline. We offered some solutions or ideas. I walked away feeling very frustrated, not really listened to, and dismissed. These feelings were also shared by my colleagues.”
Following the public comment, board president Paul Abbott thanked those who attended and said he and others will encourage the administration better deal with misbehavior across the district.
“I know this has been focused on the high school to a great deal but I also agree with the comments about making sure that we’re getting our house in order right from the foundation with our kindergartners and first graders. This is very important to us. I’m not asking for any credit for it, but I can tell you that we have labored over this a great deal even before Nov. 6 and we expect some immediate improvements.”
Prior to the public comment, School Superintendent Bret Apthorpe provided further details on a series of action steps that have been introduced in response to the high school lockdown incident, although the return of night school was not on the list. He did, however, say that among the steps being taken was identifying and removing 45 students from the high school who’ve exhibited chronic absenteeism and behavior issues. Those students will not be given alternative education programming at the school’s Tech Academy.
Apthorpe also said told WRFA following the meeting that other steps can and will be taken in the coming months. In the meantime, he was also thankful so many stakeholders showed up because it shows the community cares about its schools.
“It was a great two hours of public feedback and discussion. We need a lot more of that in this community,” Apthorpe said. “I thought the last speaker of the night – a mother of six kids – I thought she was very articulate about this should be the start of a conversation and a larger conversation of our community and being involved. I think its very healthy to have this sort of dialogue.”
Apthorpe also said he could not discuss how the district would deal with high school principal Bradley in the wake of the criticism from the students and staff, which included a vote of no confidence from JTA last month.
“While I can’t get into any individual personnel piece, it ultimately stops with me, the superintendent. So if our environments are not where they need to be I expect to be held accountable for that and the opposite is true of that. I expect people to do there jobs and hold them accountable for that,” Apthorpe said.
Apthorpe also said that the district will be providing an update on the various steps that have been undertaken and how they’ve impacted student behavior later this school year, most likely in mid March.