District school board members critical of state-mandated policies
School opening goes well despite Kingswood construction
September 16, 2010
WOLFEBORO – Superintendent Jack Robertson began last Monday's Governor Wentworth Regional School Board meeting by saying that despite the anxieties he had felt at the start of school, staff, parents and students have all contributed towards a safe and successful beginning.
"I don't think I've ever looked at the opening of school with as much apprehension as this year with everything that's going on at the Kingswood complex," said Robertson.
And Robertson's worries were indeed valid. With the complex doubling as a functioning school campus and evolving construction site, parking, traffic flow, and the safety of the students accessing the school buildings have all been of major concern. So far, Robertson said, "We've got off to an excellent start of the school year given all of the challenges that we had to face."
One of those challenges had been the early September heat that forced Robertson and the administration to call for a district-wide early dismissal the Thursday of the very first week of school. Releasing the students two hours early was a wise decision reported WMUR's Channel 9 news. In areas of the high school the heat, due to a reduction in airflow resulting from construction procedures in combination with body heat, left some of the classrooms stagnant and very hot.
Robertson, who has since received some criticism for calling the dismissal, said he was confident the right choice had been made.
"Some of those days we were in school it was blistering hot and the problem of course becomes exacerbated here at the Kingswood complex with buildings that are in some places boarded in and closed off."
This is not however likely to be a reoccurring problem now that more fall-like weather has set in.
Another daily task at the Kingswood complex has been getting the students in and out of school safely. Upon arrival at school each morning and at dismissal each afternoon staff can be seen planted throughout the site guiding walkers and bikers in the right direction and enforcing cars to drive slowly. In addition fenced-off walking paths have been installed and pavement markings have been added where necessary.
"I want to commend all the students, who have been so cooperative working with us in regards to all of the inconveniences that go with this building project," said Robertson when addressing the difficulties the building crew has had with parking and traffic accommodations.
Robertson also thanked the transportation department, staff and parents for their ongoing support and cooperation as well.
"All the staff have all worked hard and I've gotten good feedback from parents who have been appreciative of the efforts that have been made to make sure that school runs smoothly, that the conditions at the site are safe."
Through this joint effort the Kingswood complex has maintained an orderly system that has allowed for minimal distraction to students and staff.
"Everything is flowing along nicely. In terms of the behavior of the staff and the kids, it's like there's no project going on whatsoever. They're all digging in and doing just what you'd like them to do and getting the most that they can in terms of the educational opportunities that we can make available to them," concluded the Superintendent.
As for the building project itself, this year's seniors were excited to hear that even they will get to use the new Kingswood Arts Center come this winter. Students will have access to the building upon substantial completion in mid-December. The district anticipates being able to use the building for events such as this year's winter concerts, plays and baccalaureate.
Chair of the Building and Maintenance Committee Ernie Brown provided a quick overview for the board of the construction project's current status.
"It's beginning to look like a finished product," he began when describing the progress being made on Phase I in general and the Kingswood Arts Center in particular. Things will really come to fruition in the next few weeks with the completion of the ceiling in the auditorium, completion of the locker rooms, art rooms, and an additional parking lot on the front side of the building. Already, Brown explained, the glasswork in the entryway has been installed and the last of the sheetrock is going up as well.
As for Phase II, tremendous progress is being made as the crews continue to prepare the site for the high school expansion on the east side of the existing building. Workers are busy compacting the soil in the area and putting in all of the footings prior to the start of the steel erection anticipated to begin on Oct. 4. North Branch Construction continues to be on schedule for both phases.
In other news the board reviewed four district policies for possible approval, two of which were met with criticism by some board members.
The first policy discussed addressed bullying and cyber bullying. While the board agreed that such a policy is very much needed, some of the members were upset with the way the policy is being enforced by the legislature, leaving very little room for district specific amendments to it.
As board member Diane Drelick explained, "All of us (the Academic Affairs Committee) feel angry in a way that the legislature has enacted a law that says 'this is the policy you will enact, that you must enact' and we have no discretion at all in changing it or wording it however we want to. Instead of saying 'you need to have a policy on bullying,' they're saying this is your policy, this is what you must do."
Other members agreed that it is the school board's job to make policies, not the legislators, but that it wouldn't serve any good to vote the policy down.
"The public needs to know exactly what their state legislators are doing [in Concord] continued Drelick. "They're tying the hands of your local boards to make any decisions about anything."
The board voted to approve the policy "under protest." Though they all agreed the policy was a good concept, members felt that the way the policy was being enforced took away local control and allowed the board no leeway to make changes.
"We're not protesting the need for the policy, we're protesting the fact that New Hampshire legislators in their blatant attempt to usurp more power, are taking away more local control," explained board member Charlene Seibel.
The second of the policies that ignited concern by board members was Use of Restraints. Again, the board voted to approve the policy "under protest" because of the lack of leeway local boards are afforded to tailor the policy to its own district's needs.
"We should be allowed as a local district to create our own policy to deal with a law that says that we should have a policy on restraints," reiterated Drelick, "It specifically ties your hands in many situations."
The other two policies reviewed, Student Absences and Truancy, and Drug Testing for Student Athletes, were briefly discussed and approved by the board.
In reviewing these policies Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Cuddy-Egbert reported that she had been meeting with parents, law enforcement, and middle school and high school students, in an effort to gain insights on the policy topics, most specifically the topic of bullying and cyber bullying.
The high school students seemed to take a special interest in bullying within the school and it is Cuddy-Egbert's hope that these discussions will lead to more student-oriented focus groups that will initiate student involvement in an effort to come up with training specific to bullying.
Robertson commented that dealing with bullying "is a great challenge, because as you look at the law it goes into issues that occur Saturday night. Schools aren't open, but they're held responsible."
"It really is about building a community and a culture… It goes beyond, in some instances, the realm of schools to be able to successfully solve it all," he explained. "Our challenge is to try and educate students and make sure [bullying] is not happening in school and help [students] build a community and attitudes where they realize they don't have to accept bullying and that something can be done about it."
"Schools can't function as the policeman of the world, it just wouldn't work," Robertson concluded.
Student Representative Tim Campbell, who attended the high school meetings with Cuddy-Egbert, commented that during the discussions one student came up with the idea that, "instead of looking at just the negativity of bullying, [schools should] look at the positives that are going on in school and build off of those."
What might have an even bigger impact on solving the bullying problem, explained Campbell, is to focus on "…the positives and how can we build connections with each other instead of talking about what connections don't exist."
The district will continue to address the issue as it works with students on how to change the culture within the schools and overcome bullying once and for all.
The school board meets for a second time this month on Monday, Sept. 27 in the Vocation Center beginning at 7 p.m. They'll meet again the following Monday, Oct. 4, for another regularly scheduled meeting at Ossipee Central School.