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Climate, behaviors, cellphone tied together at RWHS

File photo

Red Wing High School must correct school climate and behavioral issues, and School Board members listened May 21 to a preliminary plan to do so

Principal Todd Herber and teacher Scott Bender both stressed the importance of having the administration and faculty come together to address these issues. The plan discusses training for teachers to address behavioral needs, having students feel successful so they can continue to achieve, and utilizing Youth Outreach for its mentoring services, just to name a few.

Bender, who is also the vice president of the teachers union, said they've had three, eight-hour meetings to discuss this potential plan and its implementation. While teachers still feel "quite a sense of frustration," the collaborative effort is necessary and important, he said.

PREVIOUSLY: School climate front and center

Through the plan, teachers would receive training in Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports and Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

RWHS previously implemented Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports, , but the few staff required to get this training a few years ago have all left the district. PBIS helps create a positive school environment through tiers that are specific to certain groups.

Multi-Tiered System of Supports builds off behavioral components by helping students feel more successful through intervention and other techniques.

Discipline

Bender said the district also needs to be supportive of expelling students as well. Bender said the district needs to address students who exhibit threatening and distracting behavior.

Bender cited the American Psychological Association and its definition for predatory behavior, saying students that make obscene gestures, verbally threaten and physically intimidate faculty and students need to be dealt with properly.

"In the extreme, you have to be willing to let our administrators expel a kid," Bender said. "If we have 30 kids who are showing these kinds of behaviors, we're not going to have to kick out 30 kids."

Bender said the district can vary the expulsion time, so removal from school isn't necessarily permanent. Bender noted that teachers have been hit, mocked and falsely accused of things by students.

Herber identified most of the school climate issues as involving eighth- and ninth-grade students.

"It doesn't take much to disrupt a building," Herber said after the meeting. "You just need to have one student in a hallway, really upset, using a lot of expletives, being defiant and that student can impact an entire pod of classes."

Herber said the district needs to enforce a "thoughtful, supportive, nurturing, but firm approach."

Cellphones, advisory class: out

Another major part of the plan has to do with cellphones and the advisory class.

The new plan would make it so phones could not be used during class time and that advisory class would be eliminated.

During the meeting, Herber said they are going to "tackle the mountain," metaphorically speaking on the issue of cellphone usage. He doesn't necessarily see an educational purpose for phones in the classroom at this time.

"We seemed to have allowed personal computers in the classroom for most purposes, for recreational purposes, not for education," Herber said. "And so recognizing that has become a huge distraction, we will be proposing that cellphones not be in classrooms next year."

Herber said teachers are able to use Chromebooks for activities or assignments that require internet usage.

As a test after getting the idea from a fellow Big 9 Conference school, Herber turned off the guest wi-fi network at the school twice this spring. The private server was able to accessed by faculty, but not students. Herber said faculty noticed the difference in student attention.

School Board members Pam Roe, Janie Farrar, and Bethany Borgschatz all supported restricting cellphone use. Roe said she had discussed the issue with her daughter, who is a freshman. When her daughter questioned what she would do during times like lunch, Roe suggested having conversations with fellow students rather than using her phone.

Superintendent Karsten Anderson said the committee that put together the cellphone plan will need to devise a more detailed description. The plan then will need the School Board's approval before being enforced.

Anderson said he views cellphone policies as a "shock" to some but a "pleasant surprise to others." Anderson continued by saying he was shocked by the amount of concern over cellphone usage.

Jayden Jech, a junior and senior class vice president for student council, said that talks of banning cellphones from classroom has worked its way around the school, worrying some.

"In today's society, cellphones are a very valuable part of some students lives, and I feel like students use their cellphones recreationally, but I also feel like they use them in important ways like researching their homework or (communicating) outside with their parents," Jech said.

Jech said he wants more time to consider his own opinion on the policy.

Jech backs advisory

However, Jech did voice his concerns about the possible loss of the half-hour advisory class.

The proposals are to:

• Eliminate the advisory period and add about 10 minutes to each instructional period.

• Reduce how many times advisory classes meet each month.

• Change timing of advisory period, which starts at approximately 9:25 a.m. daily.

• Require students to stay in advisory period or find alternative places for them.

The recommendation is to eliminate the advisory altogether.

Bender said the advisory was created to help kids who were close to or failing a class to meet with teachers to address those issues. However, it never worked out that way and has been a time for students to go into clubs or do various activities.

However, the school would like to continue the Naviance program, which helps students who have college aspirations and uses the advisory period every other week or so. School Board Vice-Chair Heidi Jones, who was a part of the School Board who originally voted to establish the advisory hour, said she was happy to see Naviance continue.

Jech voiced his concern about the elimination of advisory as a deterrent to younger students who want to be involved with club and different activities. Herber said students would be able to change meeting times to before or after school.

After the meeting Jech said the change "minimizes" the chance to get to clubs and activities because transportation issues may hinder students.

"I think of advisory as a time for students to explore the different options for extra-curricular activities and clubs within our school. ... Advisory's really a great time for students to figure out what they may be interested in the school day," Jech said after the meeting.

Herber said they could look into addressing transportation needs through the Hiawatha Valley Transit or other modes before the change is officially made.

The board didn't vote on the presentation.

The committee will meet further with faculty and students, hoping to have plans completed to be enforced during the 2018-2019 school year.

For a complete list of the plan, visit www.rwps.org and find the May 21 agenda under School Board.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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