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Principals provide insight on anti-bullying programs

Duane Duff, King George resident and parent of a high school student, stepped up to the podium during citizen comment at the March 28 School Board meeting.  Duff chronicled the plight of his high-schooler who had been the target of bullying beginning in 2009.  Duff recalled “many hours” meeting with school administrators and how the harassment changed the lives of their entire family.  Duff summarized, telling the School Board his child would take advantage of an early graduation and “miss senior year” because of the “harassment campaign” his family endured.

  Duff ended his public comment by telling the board, “It’s got to stop.”

As Duff spoke, sitting in the audience listening was the Hayden family, whose fifth grade son is being homeschooled after a classmate held a knife to his throat at school and Nathan, the sophomore who suffered three jaw fractures after being jumped at school, and Nathan’s mom. Both families have recently gone public with their stories and given a face to problems of school violence and bullying. 

Gayle Hock, Supervisor of Guidance and Social Work Services, appeared before the board in response to their request for an update on school bullying programs.  Hock spoke to the Standards of Student Conduct, revised in 2008, which are modeled on DOE guidance, noting that it is the policy of King George schools that “bullying will not be tolerated.”  Hock noted that one intervention activity used is to “teach replacement behavior” to students exhibiting improper behavior.

Hock introduced the five principals of King George schools, and each gave a presentation before the board and the 50-plus citizens in the audience.

Potomac Elementary Principal Beth Gordon and KGMS Principal Seidah Ashshaheed currently participate in an Effective School-Wide Discipline (ESD) program, which is a statewide initiative supporting positive academic and behavioral outcomes for all students. ESD provides the tools and training events for individual schools to set up a research-based model that identifies the specific needs of the school and individual students. 

Gordon reported on statistics from Potomac Elementary that “provide a wealth of data” and identifies students who are considered “frequent flyers” or “repeat offenders.”   Gordon reported that, based on data collected, 11 students have been identified who have received 40 out of 52 referral slips written this school year. Once identified, those students receive “intensive behavioral support” every day. Gordon also advised the board the ESD team is working on a plan to implement ESD strategies with the bus drivers, noting that, to date, 17 discipline referrals have occurred on bus rides. 

Ashshaheed and guidance counselor Henry Askew brought along three middle school students who addressed the board.  All three of the students had been victims of bullying and spoke of peer mediation and intervention by administrators that worked to diffuse the acts of bullying.  Ashshaheed also noted she provides anger management training to teachers as well as students, as teachers are on the frontline in identifying behaviors.  The school nurse is also trained and is considered by Ashshaheed as “one of our primary first-step-intervention people.” 

Ashshaheed further noted that the middle school “combats bullying one student at a time by providing help.”  And that “The safety of all students comes first.”

Sealston Elementary Principal Christopher Bryant, with Assistant Principal Stacey Fetterolf and King George Elementary Principal Ronald Monroe spoke to common school strategies, such as the 2nd Step Program, Too Good for Drugs and Violence program, the Today Show, teacher mentoring, cyber-bully awareness, good character incentive programs and character education.  Monroe noted that interventions are initiated on a case-by-case basis and the school calls parent conferences “whenever it is deemed necessary.” 

Sealston Elementary School also has a program called Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students), which is a parent volunteer effort that has dads onsite, monitoring school hallways and parking lots.  Sealston is also a participant in the ESD program, which will be fully implemented next year. 

High School Principal Cliff Conway opened his presentation by remarking “We are in a unique position,” describing his recent efforts to begin creation of an ESD program at the high school.  There are currently no models for using ESD in a high school setting.  Conway has initiated talks with Garfield High School administrators who have already begun creating a model based on ESD protocols.

Currently the high school has in place a program called  “I’m Stepping Up — Not Standing By” program that uses preprinted forms students can elect to fill out and hand in, either anonymously or using their name. The forms ask “What did you see? Who was involved? When and where did it happen? Were there any other witnesses?  If so, who?” 

Conway brought along two “student leaders” who spoke to the issue of bullying.  Senior Le’Andra Jones noted “It gets bad in high school; I can’t sugar coat it.”  Jones also said, “Students do report these forms and give them to student leaders.”  Senior Tessa Boyd said “Bullying is an on-going problem in all high schools. We’re starting with small things.” 

School board members questioned Hock at the end of the principals’ presentations.  Board member Dennis Paulsen asked “We are seeing there are failures on the way.  Are we taking the lessons learned from that?” To which Hock replied “Yes, we always try to learn from out situations that have not been good for us.”  Board member Rick Randall noted “Schools are not responsible for conduct that occurs after a student goes home — it’s a very complex situation.”

Board Comment
At the end of each school board meeting, members are provided time to speak on any issue and are not limited to items on the agenda.

Member Rick Randall brought up a recent finding by Virginia Department of Education that found King George schools to be in violation in eight areas relating to the provision of special education services.
“We are following the Virginia education plan,” Randall said. “We are not wavering … They are providing training.”  Randall spoke next to bullying saying “Bullying is best handled by peer pressure … when that fails, we go to the discipline process.” 

Member Dennis Paulsen spoke to the evening’s presentations saying “We’re trying to do what we can. It hit home.”  Paulsen further spoke saying “You are demanding from us to have safe schools. You should also demand a world-class education for your student. We need funding. Please get out and support us on April 19.”

Member Mike Rose spoke, addressing citizen speaker Duff saying, “I’m really sad your child is going to miss their senior year.” Rose then addressed two issues recently brought up by parents and said, “We are working on that — making sure authorities are called at the proper time.”  Rose also noted “We are creating a form letter right now,”  in response to parents’ concerns that they are not being informed when serious incidents occur at school.  Rose also advised parents, “Talk to your children. Use this as an opportunity to talk.”

Member Lynn Pardee noted “We have been distracted, it is budget season … Good schools are not free.  Keep that in mind.” 

Chairwoman Renee Parker remarked, “We admit when we were wrong …” and then became overcome with emotion and began to cry, saying “It’s a lot of work and we realize it.”  

Kathy Flanagan

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