Sunday, January 29, 2012

One question too many

Having tried three times (reported here, here, and here) to get a sense of how much our school’s use of disciplinary measures has increased this year, I still felt no closer to an answer. The principal’s last response blamed her predecessor for not “working through” behavioral issues, and then explained why the school can’t just ignore misbehavior – which, of course, I never suggested. I wrote back:
Thanks. I’m not sure it explains much to say that there “should have been” more discipline in previous years. Previous principals apparently used a lighter hand, which seems perfectly defensible.

I would think that whether we “should” have this new policy ought to depend on the actual overall effect it ends up having on the children – not just on their behavior, but on their attitude toward school. If it really is creating a negative culture at the school, and making the kids see the adults who run the school as their adversaries, I would think that that would weigh pretty heavily against the policy.

Again, it’s my impression that it is having that negative effect, but I realize I’m only one person. Have other parents raised similar concerns?
The reply came not from the principal but from the assistant superintendent, Ann Feldmann:
Good afternoon, Mr. Liebig. I write to offer to arrange a meeting with our district leaders who endorse the methods being used at Hoover Elementary and all other elementary schools in our district. If you would like to discuss our system further, I know that there is an interest in hearing your concerns and sharing our perspective.

I also ask that you direct your further questions on this topic to Becky Furlong and me, rather than to Ms. Bradford. I will ask Ms. Bradford to acknowledge your emails but to forward them to one of us for a response.

Certainly, if you have other questions pertaining to your child, a correspondence with Ms. Bradford should proceed. However, on this topic (general student discipline methods, practices, inquiries, concerns), I would ask that we have an opportunity to address your thoughts at a systems level.

Thank you for your polite emails (the ones I’ve been fortunate to see). It truly makes a difference when there is civil interaction with each other.

Thank you,
A meeting with “our district leaders who endorse the methods being used”? The writing teacher in me wondered whether there are also district leaders who don’t endorse the policy, and why I couldn’t meet with them, too. But the parent in me wondered: if you were a district administrator, and a parent expressed concern that a school practice was creating a negative, stressful, and distrustful school atmosphere, would you announce in advance that you support the practice, before even meeting with the parent?

Notice that, once again, the question I asked – have other parents complained? – went entirely unanswered.

To be continued.


FedUpMom said...

Chris, I really hope you keep after this. As to the question whether other parents have complained, the answer is certainly yes, but don't expect the school to admit it.

I hope you'll schedule the meeting with the Asst Super, and bring as many other parents as you can find with you. It's much harder for them to ignore a group of parents. You might consider a petition too.

And watch out for "parent triangulation" -- that's the one where school administrators claim that all the OTHER parents just love the current system!

Unknown said...

Looks like you are making progress. My suggestion is to not drop anyone from the conversation and move them over to the CC. Also, if people mysteriously vanish after a reply make sure to add them back.

Chris said...

Thanks, FedUpMom. I do think one of the first lessons in Parent Management class must be: never let a complaining parent know that any other parent feels the same way.

Chris said...

Thanks, Billy. That's good advice.

Sarah said...


I believe that the district does not want to give you this information over email due to email being a public record.

Keep the communication going though. I would also approach your PTO about having a presentation at a PTO meeting about behavior data. Part of PBIS is working with families to improve/maintain school climate. See if there is a parent representative on the school's PBIS team. That person may be able to get you some more information.

Good luck with your quest.

KD said...

When I've asked questions in the past, I've been referred to others as well.

In one rather bizarre instance I asked someone to provide me with a more comprehensive description of a certain part of the curriculum. The district website and other materials gave very little information.

I really wasn't looking for a huge amount of information. Anyway, people spent more time sending me emails avoiding the questions I was asking, or referring me to others...more time than it would have taken someone to simply answer the question. Simply getting an answer to the question "Does this subject have a textbook, and can I see it", took weeks to get answered.

In another instance, I asked to see the written policy for the district regarding school arrival and dismissal times. We had a teacher who dismissed the kids early one day and left the building...much confusion developed. She's still employed in the ICCSD.

This was several years ago, with a different administration. Looks like the culture hasn't changed at all.

Their hope is that you will give up of course. Bring someone else with you and take notes.

Chris said...

Sarah -- Thanks for the comment! Our PTA does a lot of great service activities, but I have not found it to be the best forum for raising concerns about the school's behavioral and discipline practices (as I discussed in the comments here).

In fact, there was a parent on the school's PBIS committee who shared many of these concerns. She found the committee's response to be pretty much the same as the assistant superintendent's: an unwillingness even to entertain the idea that these disciplinary practices might be creating a negative atmosphere and stressing out the kids, even in the face of parent complaints. She also said that the administration shared very little actual data with the committee. She ended up resigning from the committee because her concerns were going unaddressed and she didn't want to continue to be a part of what they were doing.

Our school's idea of "working with families" on PBIS and discipline is to give the parents advice on how they can support the school's program and apply the same techniques at home. There has never been any effort -- at the school or the district level -- to see if parents actually want PBIS and its accompanying hyper-emphasis on discipline and behavior. PBIS was imposed from above, and the principals have obviously been told to make it happen regardless of whether anyone likes it. (I assume that that is partly because we'd have to give the grant money back if we discontinued it prematurely.)

At one PTA meeting early on in the implementation of PBIS, I asked the then-principal, "Would it matter if all the parents were against this?" Her answer was "No, it wouldn't." That pretty much says it all about the district's idea of working with families.

One of the things that's so misguided about this intensification of discipline is that it's being done without regard to whether there's any parental buy-in. If a child gets an incident report or a suspension threat and the parents respond by saying, "That's ridiculous!", the principal's credibility with those kids will just be weakened, and her own goals undermined. But that's the inevitable outcome when parents are told, and not asked, about school policy.

Chris said...

KD -- I hear you. I understand that I'm just one person, and that I can't expect the school administrators to change their ways just because I want them to. But I do think they owe parents a good faith effort to listen to their concerns and consider them, rather than just reject them out of hand as a foregone conclusion. Judge for yourself which type of response we're seeing in these exchanges.