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Why we're shedding light on issues that need it


In and of themselves, two surveys of union members in Grand Coulee Dam schools paint an alarming picture of conditions in the schools, but their hues can be softened or sharpened with other factors that add more light.

The surveys, outlined in a front-page story this week, explicitly reveal poor grades for administration by teachers and support personnel, many of whom feel a keen lack of communication and direction in regard to discipline and job expectations.

Less explicit may be the unspoken, but important, factors one might read between the lines.

“Discipline” issues have haunted the district for many years, whether school board members have wanted to recognize them or not. Parents of students have complained, off the record to us, of a lack of consequences for bullying. Some pulled their students from the district, but the exodus was sometimes put down to simple athletic interests or other reasons. Rather than tackle very tough problems, some administrators through the years have chosen to believe parents wanted more playing time for their kids who might shine brighter on teams in a smaller district.

But that’s just a perspective from one part of the community. This week’s news of discontent comes from the district staff itself. And it paints a picture of perceived inconsistency in discipline issues, a lack of training for them, and a related paucity of communication on the issue.

Consistency in discipline is far more important than severity, so a perception of a lack of it, by staff and by students, leads to more bad behavior and demoralization for all, not to mention safety concerns and an impeded learning environment for the vast majority of students who want to learn.

One of our between-the-lines reads: The current “handbook” that supposedly spells out consequences is likely out of date with actual policy and the realities of the profession’s current best-practice advice, and with the legal landscape in which schools today operate.

That could lead to employees thinking their complaints about misbehaving students go nowhere. And we know of some who have left the job in disgust, partly because of it.

We can’t know whether the district plans to update training on its currently used “Positive Behavior Intervention System” and to train staff in “Right Response” and “Restorative Justice” methods will be sufficient. Or how much a laudable new in-school “Truancy Board” this year actually reduced truancy. But it’s evident that getting everyone at least on the same page is a critical first step.

Part of the training problem has been that support staff hasn’t been included, a budget consideration. This coming school year, the superintendent wants to include them, mandatorily, and increase trainings from an “ineffective” one-hour every other Monday to seven half days, which the school board approved in March.

Finding the money to accomplish this training is quite a separate challenge, especially in a year when the entire formula for funding education is still up in the air, and the state Legislature is still arguing about it in an extended session.

The good news here is that dialogue on the issues has begun in earnest, and that everyone involved wants to work on the solution.

Although union leadership and several district employees are nervous about this story coming out as contracts are renegotiated, for our part, The Star hopes that added light on the subject will help encourage the work along.

Scott Hunter

editor and publisher

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