At the Rutland City Public School board’s meeting Tuesday night, Rutland Middle School Principal Deb Hathaway and Vice Principal Sharon Napolitano said they could use a social worker at the school, but were still collecting data to address ongoing disruptive behavior from the students.
“I need flexibility on staffing,” Hathaway said. “The idea of having a social worker or a home-school coordinator type of position would give our counselors the ability to meet with students on a more regular basis.”
At a Rutland City School Board meeting Feb. 26, Rutland City parent Rachel Alexander said the student violence at the Rutland Middle School had reached a very dangerous level.
“I’m here to convey my very strong sense that the Rutland Middle School is in crisis,” Alexander said. “It’s an untenable situation ... I don’t even know if it's safe.”
The violence between students was not just confined to the school-hours — children were bringing their fears and trauma home with them, Alexander said. “The delivery of the curriculum has been affected greatly,” Alexander said. “Teachers are being asked to handle situations that ... they are not able to do.”
Children not directly involved were also being traumatized, as the problems weren’t being contained.
“There is a growing feeling in the community ... that there’s a deep problem at Rutland Middle School as well as the Rutland Intermediate Schools,” Alexander said.
The two school counselors currently employed at the school are effectively each meeting with 150 students, and the three-hour coordinated services planned meetings took significant time away from that, which was why Hathaway said she approached Superintendent Adam Taylor about reallocating a staff position.
The “See Something, Say Something” is an initiative that the team of teachers, support staff and administrators are encouraging in their student and faculty bodies, and all of the work that the community and training was conducted over the summer for five staff members on restorative practices, Hathaway said.
Hathaway asked for a bell system which would keep the flow of traffic between classes going and though there is a safety box at the school where students and staff can submit requests or suggestions, not many are made.
Rather, a number of students go directly to teachers with their concerns, she said, and after every incident is reported, teachers conference with the student before potentially contacting their parents, depending on the reaction.
“One of the things that ... is difficult, students that don’t necessarily have a disability ... they have social maladjustment,” Hathaway said.
Though only in her 18th month as the principal, Hathaway said documentation of student behavioral data was ongoing and teachers were brainstorming ways to improve student performance, and teachers are “working very hard” to address social-emotional learning.
They’ve increased mental health screenings for students and training on how to de-escalate students and how to address trauma in the classroom, as well as increased Rutland Mental Health services presence both inside and outside the school.
“Research-based practices and being informed by the data we’re currently collecting will make Rutland Middle School the best possible school,” Hathaway said.
Board member Joanne Pencak asked about the violence that students are experiencing, and what specific measures the school was taking to address the incidents.
In addition to moving the sole resource officer to Library Avenue, Hathaway said they’ve re-implemented school suspensions as they found reprimanding students was not effective otherwise.
“As much as we want every child in our school, we have to take a break at times to meet with the parents and to address violence,” Hathaway said. “We do crisis management for those students ... it’s a misconception that nothing is done.”
A small population of students was responsible for a large portion of the incidents, Hathaway said, and though the clinicians through Rutland Mental Health are very helpful, there are certain students and families who choose not to participate in services available to them.
“We’re documenting different types of behaviors,” Hathaway said. “We have to have that information to know what our student population is doing.”