Saturday, March 05, 2016
School shootings, rape, discipline and Joplin High School
A student says she was raped in a hallway.
Sadly, incidents like these happen in schools across the country. They are not necessarily a sign that a school is out of control. We have had news reports of shocking shootings and other incidents happening at the best schools in the country.
It is also not just something that happens at sprawling urban schools. This modern nightmare has occurred at small schools, private schools, and schools that are highly regarded.
Some of the comments on this blog since the arrest of a Joplin High School ninth grader Thursday was reported have laid the blame on school officials for this threatened school shooting and for the reported rape.
One thing that should be noted is what went right this week. Whether a shooting would have occurred is something we will never know. What we do know is that students had the courage to come forward and tell administrators what they knew, making sure there was no chance of Joplin joining the ranks of Columbine and Jonesboro.
That is what worked right.
What should concern taxpayers is a situation that was allowed to develop over the past several years by an out-of-touch Board of Education that was more interested in basking in the reflected glory of a "hero" superintendent and the approval of an unelected group of community elites than in doing what was best for the children.
How else can you explain moving toward one of the biggest high schools in the state of Missouri at the same time that you are guaranteeing that it will be staffed by one of the most inexperienced faculties in the state?
It took the election of new board members for the focus to finally turn on the departure of more than half of the district's teachers, including a disproportionate number of veteran educators. It is always important to bring in a blend of passionate young teachers each year, not only to bring their energy and enthusiasm, but to make sure that they have the time to learn from experienced teachers before taking their place among the faculty leaders.
That model was never taken seriously by former Superintendent C. J. Huff and his Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer. An average of more than 100 teachers have left Joplin per year for the past four years. While some of those were inexperienced teachers replacing inexperienced teachers, more than half of the district's approximately 600 teachers have left.
Instead of taking this problem seriously, the board backed Huff, even while he changed his reasoning each time someone asked him why teachers were leaving.
At first, it was the tornado. That made it seem as if teachers were abandoning their school district because they, unlike the superheroes in upper administration and on the board of education, were heading for calmer pastures. Few, if any, teachers left the R-8 School District because of the tornado. An overwhelming majority of teachers place the future of the children ahead of their own personal comfort. Many of the teachers who have left the school district only did so after it became apparent that nothing was going to be done about Huff and Besendorfer.
Huff then took the sexist route, claiming that teachers were leaving because their husbands took jobs in other communities. That happened a couple of times. There was even at least one instance of a male teacher leaving because his wife received a better job in another state, but it was not a major factor in teachers continuing to flee the district.
After those excuses did not work, Huff, never a strong supporter of the classroom teacher during his seven-year tenure in Joplin, threw his former employees under the bus, claiming they were leaving because they were not capable of performing up to "Joplin standards." On the contrary, some of the teachers who left had no problem being hired by school districts which not only offered the teachers higher salaries and better benefits, but in many cases, performed up to a much higher standard than that set in Joplin.
At the same time, the area's newspaper of record, the Joplin Globe, did its level best to serve as a public relations trumpet for Huff. On the one time that it focused on the problem of teachers leaving the district, it did so in such a way that it made it appear as if there was nothing unusual in having that many teachers leave.
And when Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder has mentioned the mass teacher flight as being one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problem facing the Joplin R-8 School District, it has been relegated to the inside jump of board of education articles, if it is mentioned at all. This is being done despite statistics revealed in a recent board meeting that more than 50 percent of the teachers across the district have less than five years of classroom experience.
While Ridder and the current board of education have accurately termed this as the number one problem facing the school district, it has yet to receive page one coverage in the Joplin Globe.
Yet, during the past several weeks, the Globe has offered its prime real estate, space on page one of its Sunday edition, to the efforts of a woman to have an empty chair designated at the Joplin High School graduation for her son, who would have been a member of the Class of 2016, but he was killed in the Joplin Tornado.
While I wrote in favor of the seat and disagree with the high school administration's decision, pushing this story two times on page one of their biggest-selling newspaper of the week and not addressing the biggest problem that faces this district appears to be another case of the Globe editors putting their thumb on the scale against those who have attempted to restore sanity to the district.
That brings us back to the events of the past couple of weeks at Joplin High School.
While these things could have happened with a faculty consisting of 100 percent experienced teachers, the parents I have spoken to have mentioned time after time their concern about the number of first and second year teachers in the classroom, teachers who not only do not have the background to deal with some of the disciplinary problems that have arisen, but who have a dwindling number of veterans to consult.
Young teachers learn, not only by having to deal with situations in the classroom, but then by meeting with veteran teachers and asking them what they would have done differently. Under the Huff Administration, not only were those teachers no longer around, but teachers were seldom given the opportunity to meet with the ones who remained to receive that valuable guidance.
That, combined with edicts from up above to write less referrals to make discipline statistics look better, left the teachers sometimes feeling they were working in a war zone instead of a place of learning.
A larger number of veteran teachers may cost more in terms of salary and benefits, but the rewards are far greater. Students feel safer, parents are more satisfied, and younger teachers have a much greater opportunity to develop to their full potential by benefiting from those who have been in the trenches.
Ironically, this week as events came to a head at Joplin High School, the man who drove more than half of the teachers out of his school district, C. J. Huff, was speaking at the third annual Bright Futures USA Conference at Missouri Southern State University and being praised for his work as a "child advocate."
Real child advocates know that the best way you can support children is by ensuring that they have the best classroom teachers.
Not surprisingly, that was not one of the topics addressed at the Bright Futures USA Conference.