On March 1, 2023

Audit to be conducted on student behavioral problems 

By Katy Savage

The Windsor Central Supervisory Union (WCSU) board voted unanimously Monday, Feb. 27 to conduct an audit at each school as student behavioral problems run rampant.

Around 40 people attended the special board meeting, which lasted about 3 1/2 hours. The meeting was called as a follow up to a Feb. 6 meeting attended by about 200 people who were frustrated with administrators’ lack of transparency after a fourth grade student allegedly brought a 9 mm bullet to Woodstock Elementary School on Jan. 24 and made threats to students on a bus.

Fourth grade teacher Stephanie Petrarca and a district board member Todd Ulman resigned over the incident and how it was handled by the administration. Petrarca provided a detailed letter to the board. 

Some parents continued to share problems with transparency in all WCSU schools at the meeting.

Board member Matt Stout who has a fourth grade student at Woodstock Elementary School, said despite parent concerns, he thought administration kept students safe. He admitted communication was a problem. 

“If you fail on communication, you lose control of the narrative and people assume the worst,” Stout said.

Amy Miller told the board her 14-year-old daughter was raped in a Woodstock Union High School-Middle School bathroom during lunch in October 2020.

Miller, who admitted she doesn’t live in the district, said she was in a “complicated divorce” and tried to get information from school officials without success. 

“These administrators should be held accountable for their inaction and discrimination,” she said. “The system’s a complete failure for our children.”

Parent Kristen Oates echoed Miller’s concerns and said the administration withholds information, even if it pertains to their own child. 

“It is a black hole of information when students are upset,” Oates said. 

The school district started using a data-driven approach to behavioral issues about four months ago with a program called Alma.

Cody TanCreti, the assistant principal at Woodstock Union High School-Middle School, said there have been over 1,114 behavioral issues in the past four months across the districts, including fighting, property damage, disruptive behavior and other problems. A total of 22.6% of students have initiated more than one incident in the past four months, according to that data.

The Prosper Valley School had the highest number of incidents, with 138 problems in the 98-student school. There were 263 incidents in the 254-student Woodstock Elementary School building in the last four months.  

Alma also allows teachers to track the time of day incidents frequently occurred, the type of incident and the individual students who were repeating the same behaviors.

“We’re trying to be investigators, it’s a landscape that’s new to us and we’re learning,” TanCreti said. “We’re doing our best.” 

Board members also heard the effects of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system. PBIS is used in all the district schools and has been in place at Killington Elementary School for about 18 years — the longest of any school in the district.  

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Killington Elementary School Principal Mary Guggenberger said at the meeting. “You get out of it what you put in.”

Guggenberger said PBIS takes a proactive approach to correcting student behavior. KES uses positive reinforcement by awarding students with stars for following rules and directions. Most students are successful, Guggenberger said, but about 15% of students need more intervention. 

Board members questioned why there weren’t more paraeducators, support staff and adults in the buildings and on the buses, where problems frequently occur.  

Superintendent Sherry Sousa said the school district consciously hired less support staff in favor of hiring more licensed professionals after the pandemic.  

“The philosophy is to hire licensed people who have advanced training,” Sousa said. 

Sousa also spoke about the challenges facing schools today. 

“The level of tension between schools and families is at a level that I’ve never seen before,” said Sousa, who’s been in the district for 30 years. 

She said the district is in a “weird position.” There are limited outside resources available and it’s difficult to find people to fill open positions.

“We’re teachers,” Sousa said. “We cannot address all behavioral issues happening in our communities. We need parent partners. This is not our specialty and it takes a high level of competency.” 

After the bullet incident, Sousa said Woodstock Elementary Principal Maggie Mills met with each staff member in the building and prepared a 10-page document. Sousa said a new assistant principal will be hired at WES to help with behavioral issues. 

An online survey measuring parent, student and staff perceptions surrounding students’ self-worth, engagement and sense of purpose was emailed to all district  parents and staff this week. Input will be taken until March 13. 

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