AMSTERDAM — Amsterdam High School and Lynch Middle School are at the center of inflated behavior issues in the Greater Amsterdam School District this year with over 3,000 instances combined in which students have been referred to administrators for discipline.
“It’s a massive number at the high school and secondary level,” Superintendent Richard Ruberti admitted.
Ruberti provided a breakdown of disciplinary referrals across district schools to the Board of Education on Wednesday that showed there have been 2,215 at the high school and 1,155 at the middle school from the beginning of the school year to Feb. 3.
Those numbers spiked in December when 504 referrals were made at the high school and 377 were made at the middle school.
The majority of the behavior issues at the high school involve students cutting class, episodes warranting lunch detention, and absences of 45 days or more. Two of the referrals were for larceny or threats, and 25 of the referrals were for physical altercations.
Issues at the middle school were primarily centered around cutting class, disorderly behavior and insubordination. While two referrals were for larceny or threats, at the middle school, the number of referrals for physical altercations swelled to 148.
“Our teachers are active in hallways, but we’re still responding to a number of incidents,” the superintendent said. “There is always room for improvement, but there is a lot to handle.”
The majority of incidents can be linked to around 50 or 60 students who continue misbehaving, according to Ruberti. He estimated nearly 30 superintendent hearings this school year have been conducted seeking suspensions of six months or longer for secondary students.
He said handling the influx of disciplinary referrals is consuming much of administrators’ time. The creation of full-time dean of students positions last month at both the high school and middle school should help staff manage ongoing issues once the posts are filled, he added.
The level of referrals at the secondary level far outpaces the disciplinary issues at district elementary schools. McNulty Elementary School has seen the most referrals with 156 overall, and 30 for physical altercations.
At Marie Curie Elementary School, there has been 51 referrals total, 15 at Barkley Elementary School and 10 at Tecler Elementary School.
The district has tried to shift from a reactive response to a proactive approach when addressing behavior issues across the school district, and at Lynch in particular, as they have escalated in recent months.
The tipping point involved repeated threats made against Amsterdam schools over social media in the past two months and students regularly engaging in fights or jumping their classmates at the middle school while filming the incidents to share on social media.
Ruberti said the steps the district has taken to “reset” student conduct has already contributed to a drop in behavior issues this month, including:
• Administrators reviewed the code of conduct with all middle school students, covering expectations and disciplinary measures for kids who violate school rules.
• Limiting restroom use to a maximum of two students at a time with monitors posted outside of the facilities to deter misbehavior and quickly respond to any incidents.
• Students at Lynch have been surveyed to gain their insight into the problems at the school. Ruberti said that 82% of students reported feeling safe at school. Surveys will be sent to students and staff across the district in the future.
• The Board of Education earlier this month approved the addition of seven hall monitor positions this school year that the district is actively working to fill.
“I think those hall monitors are going to be a big difference,” Ruberti said. “To create the position is one thing, to actually physically have them is the most important thing.”
The superintendent acknowledged that ongoing hiring challenges have extended to adding hall monitors. Although the district initially received around 60 applications, roughly 16 candidates were identified to interview. Just three or four of the candidates replied to schedule interviews.
Board of Education member Gavin Murdoch pointed out the possibility that none of the candidates would ultimately pan out.
“Out of those four you may not be able to find somebody who is actually suitable for that kind of job. It’s a hard job,” Murdoch said. “We’ve got to find people who fit.”
Ruberti agreed, noting that pay for the positions has been boosted to $18 an hour to try to attract candidates.
School Board Vice President Curtis Peninger questioned the level of training district hall monitors receive in light of a recent incident reported by a parent. The parent was reportedly told by their child that they were groped by other students and had been stopped by a hall monitor when they tried to bring the incident to the attention of an assistant principal.
District officials confirmed the incident was under investigation, but indicated the scenario described to the parent was not entirely accurate before recommending any further discussion be confined to executive session.
All hall monitors receive training in de-escalation techniques and hands on responses. The board approved a contract with Handle With Care to provide that instruction to the anticipated new staff for up to $2,000.
The district is planning to take several additional steps to curb further issues including:
• Surveying parents and hosting forums to gather their concerns and input about how to resolve the issues in schools.
• Working with HFM BOCES and the Gloversville Enlarged School District to re-establish an alternative education program for middle school-age students engaging in discipline issues or struggling in their home school environment. The existing Adirondack Academy only accepts high school students.
• Beginning digital citizenship education currently offered in ninth grade focused on security and online conduct with students around fifth grade to reflect the widespread use of technology and social media by kids of all ages in the modern era.
GASD is not alone in facing a surge in disciplinary issues among students as school districts across the region have been forced to grapple with similar situations.
A pair of fights in the cafeteria at Ballston Spa High School on Tuesday led a school resource officer to begin monitoring the lunch room from the vantage point of a lifeguard chair.
Albany High School went into lockdown on Thursday when a fight between two students resulted in knife wounds to one of the students and a hall monitor attempting to break up the altercation, the Times Union reported.
The suspect in the incident was taken into custody. The student and monitor were treated for minor injuries at Albany Medical Center. Students will learn remotely today, according to the Times Union.
Heatly School in the Green Island Union Free School District ends a period of fully-remote learning today that began on Feb. 11 to address a series of physical altercations at the high school.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie