A north Oklahoma City elementary school will close to students Friday while teachers receive training about classroom management, discipline and other topics.
The decision to shut down North Highland Elementary School came after employees and community members expressed concern about the state of the school, Principal John Addison said.
“We have a lot of behavior issues that we deal with, some attitudes, some acting out — things that are really distractions to the instructional process overall,” Addison said. “It's those things that we want to address.”
As of Monday, the school had logged 34 out-of-school suspensions so far this year, according to district statistics.
That's about one suspension for every 15 students during the first three months of school.
Parents found out about the training from an automated phone call Friday afternoon and a letter sent home with students Monday. The letter identified several areas of teacher training, including behavior, classroom management and school safety.
Karen Perea's youngest son is a prekindergarten student at North Highland. The school has struggled for years, she said, and she's hopeful the teacher training will help.
“They absolutely need behavioral strategies,” Perea said. “I think it's safe, but it's unorganized.”
Her son will stay with a friend while she works Friday. She said she'd rather he be in school.
“I don't think it's fair,” Perea said. “It's not fair to the kids, and it's not fair to the parents.”
Administrators will meet with teachers Tuesday to finalize plans for Friday, Addison said. The goal is for teachers to identify systemic problems and find solutions, he said.
“The bottom line is we want to increase student achievement overall, and the best way to do that is to take care of the needs that are constant and have been long-lasting,” Addison said.
About half of the teachers at North Highland are new this year, as are the principal and vice principal.
High turnover isn't a new problem at the school, Addison said. Hopefully the training will help unify employees and more will choose to stay at the school, he said.
“Any time there's any type of transition in the classroom, it does set things back,” he said.
Addressing the root of those problems is vital, said Cindy Schmidt, chief academic officer for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“Sometimes we may Band-Aid something when really we need a full 911 effort,” Schmidt said. “I think that we are going to try to put our heads together to see what we can do so we can be proactive so we won't be having this same conversation in the future.”
North Highland has been a 911 situation for years, said Olivia Tran, whose daughters attend kindergarten and second grade classes at the school.
Tran said she attended North Highland when she was a little girl. She remembers fights, bullying and arrests.
“It was horrible when I was here,” she said Monday after picking her children up from school. “That's why I was so scared when my kids came here. Are they going to experience what I experienced?”
So far, she said, it looks like things are the same. Tran said she's seen things that are frustrating and frightening.
People have checked her children out of school without having to show ID.
She said she saw an after-school fight in front of the school a few days before fall break, and staff members didn't break up the tussle.
She said she's heard teachers swear at students.
“There have been a lot of issues with teachers screaming at the students,” Tran said.
Her older daughter has been knocked down repeatedly on the playground and in the restroom by a classmate, but Tran said administrators haven't taken her concerns about bullying seriously. Luckily, Tran said, her daughter's teacher has been proactive and helpful.
She said she's glad the teachers will get extra training, but she questions if one day is enough to change the culture of chaos.
“I don't know if there's going to be any change involved,” Tran said. “I hope there is. I would hope they would get this fixed.”
Tran moved into the neighborhood to take care of her ailing father, but she wishes her daughters went to school somewhere else.
“If I had a choice,” she said, “my children would not be here.”
The bottom line is we want to increase student achievement overall, and the best way to do that is to take care of the needs that are constant and have been long-