09/14/10 — Schools continue efforts to take aim at student bullies

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Schools continue efforts to take aim at student bullies

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 14, 2010 1:46 PM

One of the techniques used to thwart bullying in schools -- writing an anonymous letter -- has been very effective in curbing incidents in one county school -- and could also have applications elsewhere, Wayne County's school board members discussed at their meeting Monday.

Following a presentation on programs Wayne County Public Schools have used in response to the bullying problem, board member John P. Grantham said it might be helpful if educators could also have a suggestion box to submit their own concerns more freely.

The suggestion came on the heels of a discussion of one of the more successful anti-bullying programs, which is in place at Norwayne Middle School.

Principal Mario Re said he has a passion for eliminating bullying, or as he calls it, "picking on kids."

"The worst thing you can do is pick on another kid," he said. "We take it very, very seriously at our school."

Contrary to anyone who believes such behavior "is just going to happen in middle school," Re said he hopes to change that perception.

Posters are effective, but essentially a "waste" if nothing else is done to back up the effort, the principal said. He has introduced several efforts at the school, including a task force comprised of eighth-graders to serve as leaders and examples to the underclassmen, policies whereby students are encouraged to partner up with any student seen eating alone in the cafeteria, and the aforementioned anonymous letter handed to the principal.

"Last year, I had about 80 or 90 letters given to me," he said. "Ninety-five percent of the time, when I called (the bully) in ... they admitted they had done it."

Chris Barnes, security coordinator, distributed examples of other materials that have been used throughout the district, appropriate for different grade levels, including a variety of DVDs and board games.

School officials have also communicated the district's anti-bullying policies via student and teacher handbooks and on the district's TV station and on its website.

Board member Len Henderson questioned how extensively the information has been conveyed.

"The state law requires that all schools are supposed to be doing these things," he said. "I have made a visit to several schools in my district ... asked for a handbook and nowhere did I find reference to bullying."

He said he was impressed with what is being done at schools represented at the board meeting, but wondered if programs are uniform across the county and not collecting dust in libraries and media centers.

"What assurances do we have that students are being taught on these materials?" he asked, suggesting that the training should also include support staff at schools.

Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said every effort is being made to communicate the policies and to provide ongoing training.

He said there is no "cookie cutter" program implemented districtwide, but assured Henderson that every school is taking necessary action.

"We take bullying very seriously," he said.

Later Henderson clarified his remarks on the subject, saying they in no way suggested dissatisfaction with any of the programs currently being used in schools.

"I hope you did not get the wrong impression," he said. "I just want to make sure we're following the law."

Grantham borrowed Re's suggestion of an anonymous letter, saying it should be considered as an option to communicate openly with the board.

"I wish that we could do something like that so that our teachers and principals and even central office could let us know if there's a problem we need to know about," he said. "I would love to see us have a way to get suggestions from people out there on the front lines."

The notion might encourage more people to speak out about their concerns, Grantham said.

And not just negatives, he explained.

"(They can suggest) how to reduce paperwork, how we can get kids not to waste a couple weeks at the end of the school year if they pass the test the first time around," he said. "I think if we get these things from the state Board of Education and the legislature and basically all we do is roll over and go on, I don't see any legislative effort to change any of it."

"As far as people picking up the phone and calling, I have never had any problems with people doing that," replied Rick Pridgen, board chairman, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Pridgen also mentioned previous surveys that had been conducted by the district, some anonymous, eliciting responses from educators and the community.

Board member Thelma Smith said that while "suggestions are good," it is not part of their role as a school board.

"You have got to remember what our responsibility is as a board," she said. "I get a lot of phone calls and a lot of them I really don't want because I don't want to deal with every parent that has a personal problem and a personal agenda .... We have people to take care of things like that.

"I don't want us to put ourselves out there as a sounding board for everybody ... when we already have a system in place."

Grantham said he understands that, but feels the input from teachers and principals could lead to a more effective way to lead the district.

Taylor reiterated the school system's approach to bullying and pledged to continue the efforts to protect every student, before addressing Grantham's suggestion. He said that every effort is being made to listen to concerns and make adjustments when warranted.

"Mr. Grantham, I want you to know that we do receive anonymous complaints," he said. "But I will be honest, if we get anonymous complaints, it's really hard to respond to them."