June 20, 2007
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer
The security guard at Fox Middle School escorted the sheepish student to Assistant Principal Sheldon Neal's office. The girl had defied a teacher's request to move along and decided to inject a little profanity - the f-bomb in this case - to magnify her displeasure.
"What are we going to do about this?" Neal asked the girl.
"Apologize," she said.
Neal, in his 27th year working in the Hartford school district, told the security guard to send her back to class to deliver that apology. "And don't forget to call her mother," he added.
"As a school system we've got to do better at connecting with the families," Neal said. "Many are dysfunctional. Many are unstable, but there's got to be some kind of connection to the home. I say to a lot of our teachers, if you haven't called the home, then don't call me."
If it were only that easy.
Two months ago, Benjamin Blake, a 60-year-old substitute teacher, brawled with a Weaver High School female student after getting into an altercation that culminated with the girl spitting at Blake. He was arrested and fired.
A Quirk Middle School teacher was suspended last week following allegations that she took money from students in exchange for their skipping detention.
Also last week, parents at Kennelly School spoke out about what they said was rampant bullying at the school.
"It definitely speaks to a much larger problem," said school board member Andrea Comer, who heads the board's new safety and order task force. "And it's probably on a smaller scale what we're seeing on the streets. It's what happens when unruly behavior goes unchecked."
Parent Milly Arciniegas says she knows of teachers who have left the district because they no longer wanted to put up with the chronic hard heads. Teachers union President Cathy Carpino describes the discipline problem as "worse than ever in my estimation."
More than 77,000 out-of-school suspensions were issued in 2005-06 to state public school students. The concerns about discipline come at a time when there is a national effort to keep more disruptive children in school, rather then expel them. A bill was passed this legislative session that would require Connecticut public schools to establish in-house school suspension programs as alternatives to outright expulsions. The governor has yet to sign the bill.
Nothing compromises learning more than insubordinate students who intimidate the teacher and their peers and take valuable education time away from the entire class. Achievement gaps can't be narrowed if learning environments are constantly disrupted.
Schools chief Steven Adamowski says there is not a discipline link to make among the incidents at Weaver, Quirk and Kennelly schools. The Weaver incident, he says, was about bad student behavior being trumped by an inappropriate teacher response. The bullying concerns at Kennelly were mostly about a special education student with severe behavioral problems who was being mainstreamed into the classroom.
Adamowski called the alleged shakedown of students by a Quirk teacher "a personnel issue."
OK, I'm not buying his argument either. But Adamowski insists that suspensions are down 20 percent this year and that about 10 percent to 12 percent of the 24,000 students are causing 80 percent of the discipline problems.
A lot of folks in the district see this differently.
Adamowski is riding the wave as an innovative school reformer, but persistent concerns about discipline could eventually sink him.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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