Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Middletown High Students Speak Out

Last night, the Board of Education met in the cafeteria at the new Middletown High. They did not discuss the school budget, as they have at the last several meetings. Instead, they conducted their regular business, with a full 45 minutes devoted to comments from the public.

Over the last month, Middletown High School has suffered through a bomb scare and an alleged after-school rape of a 15-year-old girl by two 18-year-olds, which is still under investigation. So the unofficial theme of the evening was "Is Middletown High Safe?" Two parents spoke with concerns about how the administration handled the mid-December bomb threat, which was reported after one student overheard another student possibly discussing a bomb and was handled by Middletown and Hartford police. Parents were notified through an electronic phone call, which went out immediately after the incident, and letters which were carried home by students. MHS principal Robert Fontaine noted that the phone call system is new this year, and there may have been errors which left some parents out of the loop.

But the bulk of the public session was a positive report from seven Middletown High students who came out to reassure the Board that they feel safe and protected at school. The students were recruited by Athletic Director Mike Pitruzello, and they included a diverse range of teenagers who were poised and assertive at the microphone. In most cases, they said that they felt that problems caused by a small number of students should not be allowed to define the character of their school.

Student Trey James struck a chord when he said that he felt that these incidents draw so much attention because they are not the norm -- he said "I'm proud of that."

Junior Anne Machuga and a friend (whose named I missed) sat at the microphone together and said they'd learned that they have to speak up against teen sterotypes. "We're letting you guys know that there is a lot of good going on in our school."

These comments were echoed by Ava Donaldson, a senior at MHS, who is the official student representative of the Board of Ed, and sits at the table at each meeting.

A special portion of the meeting was devoted to a report from Principal Fontaine about safety and civility at the high school. He gave an interesting report about their efforts to change the culture of discipline at the school, especially the shift from "teachers teach, the assistant principal does the discipline" to a system where all adults share responsibility for monitoring standards of behavior. In conjunction with this, they have moved away from a detention-based discipline program, to finding more "appropriate consequences" for misbehavior. When pressed for examples, he mentioned that a kid who makes a mess in the cafeteria might be assigned to community service -- cleaning the lunchroom. Also, he said that they have devoted a lot of professional development time to helping staff understand the importance of developing relationships with students as a groundwork for effective discipline.

I'm not familiar enough with the on-the-ground results of these efforts to evaluate their effectiveness, and the EYE would welcome any comments or reporting from those with a better inside view!

The Board meeting also included a recognition of Santo Fragilio, the founder of the Middletown Cultural Council. That's the group that has been bringing musicians, artists, actors and dancers into our schools to perform and to teach for the past 40 years. If you've had a child in the Middletown schools during those decades, then you've had the benefit of Santo's volunteer efforts. He has a hand in every step of the process: writing the grants, booking the artists, coordinating with the schools. He works with a small group that includes people like Marco Gaylord (the school system Fine Arts Coordinator and High School band director) and Pam Tatge (director of Wesleyan's Center for the Arts), among others. I know all this because I became a member of the Cultural Council this past September and I'm wowed by what Santo can do. Congratulations Santo!

The next Board of Ed meeting will be on February 10th, when the Board expects to adopt a budget for the 2009-2010 year, which then gets passed on to the Common Council to see if they will support that level of funding. Also, there is a February 24th workshop and special meeting scheduled, when the Board will consider the official School Improvement Plan and will also consider their priorities for the budget, in case future cuts are needed.

And by the way, if you want even more Board of Ed news than the Middletown Eye can give you, you can now watch the Board meetings live on Channel 19. They are re-broadcast the Sunday following the meeting at 6 pm.


Anonymous said...

It took 5 YEARS of parent and public pressure to get the Board of Ed to broadcast their public meetings over cable tv live. Somebody organize a parade or something because this is huge.

Anonymous said...

Jen, ask MF about Joanne Frieberg who is a consultant to CT school districts on bullying and creating "climates of respect" in our schools. Parents asked for her services to MPS 3 or 4 years ago, but our Asst. Superintendent skillfully sand-bagged that effort at that time. Frechette brought her in for training beginning last year.

Now that the Asst. super is finally retiring we can all look forward to more timely and most needed changes in MPS. Some people just gotta go!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jen Alexander! Your timely and thorough coverage of the School Board is wonderful. You are providing an invaluable service to the Middletown Community.

Jen Alexander said...

Dear Anonymous @ 11:43 am:

Frankly, I'm all for bringing information to light -- and I think that parents should speak up if their issues are not being addressed.

But I think we can be more effective if we stick to the issues and not the personalities, at least in the EYE.

I'll try to learn more about the anti-bullying program you mentioned.

-Jen Alexander