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Union surveys point out problems in school district

Discipline policy, communications and staff training get failing grades

 

Answers from 32 certificated employees

Members of two Grand Coulee Dam School District unions responding to recent internal surveys outlined a number of complaints dealing with discipline, communication and training issues.

The survey responses provide a glimpse into a district, many of whose workers are disillusioned enough that union leaders felt compelled to ask questions of the membership.

While the survey respondents collectively fell short of painting a no-confidence opinion, several within the two unions stated that they didn't have any confidence in the school administration.

Most dissatisfaction centered around discipline in the schools and a prevalent opinion that administrators don't provide enough support for paraprofessionals and teachers.

"We are very serious about this, and we hope the administration will be as well," said Aaron Derr, the district's classified union president in an interview at The Star.

Derr said the classified-level survey had been meant to be used internally, and that he had wanted it as a means to present information the administration could act on, "a wake-up call." But he was concerned the results might "paint the district in an uglier light than it really is."

The Star was given a copy of an edited version of it last week as several had reportedly been handed out in the community. Derr said that was the version he had presented to his membership after editing some comments that might have made particular students personally identifiable.

District Superintendent Paul Turner provided the newspaper with the results of the survey of certificated staff.

Forty-three out of 80 members of the classified union responded to the survey and 32 teachers responded to the certificated staff survey. "Certificated" employees include teachers holding degrees and state educator certifications. "Classified" employees include all others, from secretaries to bus drivers, custodians and paraprofessionals who help in the classroom.

Dissatisfaction on the support administrators provide in regard to discipline follow-ups has been brewing in the district for some time.

Superintendent Paul Turner, who is just completing his first year on the top job, was assistant junior/senior high principal the year before and was involved in discipline issues then.

He had already outlined a program to deal with discipline for the coming year, when Derr and union Vice President Jess Utz met with him June 1.

"We were pleased to find out that Paul had recognized a lot of these ahead of time ... before I even took the survey," Derr said.

Turner has proposed setting aside seven half-days for the entire staff to get training on how to recognize and deal with those who disturb procedures at the school.

"During this past year, it has been apparent that an escalation of student behavior, lack of staff professional development and better communications are the nucleus of difficulties that need to be addressed at Grand Coulee Dam SD," Turner said in a written statement issued Monday after The Star sought comment on the surveys. "Although the survey was not initiated by the district, the results support decisions and direction that the administration has already been planning for next year."

Among classified staff, nearly 40 percent indicated they felt no support from administrators when they discipline a student, and more than 72 percent answered that question with the lowest three of nine possible responses.

Among certificated staff, 75 percent said they felt "not at all" (6.2 percent) or "somewhat" (28.3 percent) supported regarding student discipline. The rest felt "moderately" or "mostly/very" supported.

"Too many adults are being assaulted this year with little to no consequences being apparent," one classfied staffer asserted in one of 139 comments given in the survey. "Tired of hearing 'you don't know the behind-the-scenes infromation' excuse. Then clue us in as to your reasoning and the effectiveness of the consequences you have administered, because there doesn't appear like any to us."

Several similar comments were made, with one staffer describing three students who "live in constant fear" because of a lack of consequences for bullying, and staff members physically injured by a student who was back in school the next day.

"Problems are swept under the rug, hoping they will disappear, rather than deal with it," said one. "Discipline, or lack of, has become a joke; it is the talking point of almost all personnel," said another.

At least part of the reason for that might be a failure to communicate, Turner's response indicated.

"This past year new laws were implemented that put a limit on school suspensions," Turner said in his statement. "Understanding the implementation of this law was not well articulated and misunderstanding of discipline occurred. This will be addressed this fall."

Unlike in other years, training days will be mandatory for both certificated and classified staff, Turner said, addressing another category of complaints.

Derr said he came away from the June 1 meeting thinking the superintendent would be "pro-active" in changing the situation. "We just have to be willing to embrace the changes," he said.

Answers from 43 classified employees. Classified employees were asked to rank their satisfaction with the question on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 indicating the least satisfied and 9 the most. For simplification, rankings are grouped here in the lowest third, middle third and highest third.

With the coming training and new initiative, Turner said, the "emphasis must be on the whole child and must shift from disciplining students to changing their behavior. The level of truancies has escalated over the years and was very evident this year. This past year a truancy board was established at the jr/sr high school level. Having to meet with the truancy board has greatly reduced the need to file truancy petitions ... with the county courts. Implementation of a truancy board at the elementary level will be a focus for the fall."

School board Chairman Joette Barry said Monday that she hadn't seen the surveys.

"I think the survey was taken for a good purpose, but not directed correctly," she said.

Barry said she hadn't been briefed and didn't know if members of the board had either.

When asked about the amount of training they have received to do their job, comments ranted from "none" to "only one training in four years."

When asked for any final thoughts, one respondent stated, "I have zero confidence in our administration. They are unprofessional, unqualified, lack communication skills, and when they actually show up for work, they are too busy to answer questions." Another wrote, "Communications are horrid here. They want to have transparency and nothing to hide, but we are like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed ... well you know."

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