PERU — Some Peru Central School community members feel the recent district-wide reorganization has resulted in disciplinary problems among high-school students.
On March 1, the district’s primary, intermediate, middle and high schools were combined to create one elementary and one secondary school - as a result, Assistant High School Principal Sanford Coakley was reassigned as associate Elementary School principal.
Leading the Secondary School are Principal Christopher Mazzella, who had served as High School principal, and Associate Principal Cheryl Felt, the former Middle School principal.
“Students walk by Mr. Coakley’s former office and realize there is not one individual to handle the discipline,” 11th-grade English teacher Elizabeth Gibbs told the School Board at a recent meeting.
“Instead, the 7-through-12 students are divided between two administrators, who now have to handle all the discipline in addition to all administrative responsibilities.”
After the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Gibbs noted, a school assembly stressed there would be zero tolerance for bullying and cellphone use at Peru Secondary School and that there was to be limited traffic in hallways.
“But in the two weeks since the restructuring, there’s been increased traffic in the halls,” she said. “Students are yelling and even texting from their lockers, (and) there’s been a fistfight that was aggravated by bullying.”
Peru Central Superintendent Dr. Patrick Brimstein responded to the safety concerns expressed at the meeting, saying he recently witnessed a conflict between two Secondary School students but was impressed to see that multiple employees stopped to address the issue.
“Albeit, it was after the issue had occurred, but the fact that people are engaged is really wonderful,” he said. “That tells me that we’re going to build a very healthy, very strong, very safe culture. I don’t think that we have lost all control at this point.”
Brimstein noted that having numerous sets of eyes on an issue and creating a preventive school culture and “a sense of belonging and connections for all students, where students tell us what’s going on,” is more productive than one person disciplining students.
“Discipline is a reactive,” he said. “It’s after something has occurred. I think that when we are preventive, we are much (more) likely to have a much safer culture.”
The superintendent added that there are no fewer administrators or counselors for students to share concerns with now than there had been before the reorganization.
“I think people are very receptive proactively to hearing those things, so we can prevent and counsel and help students from reaching the point of conflict,” he said.
In addition, Brimstein noted, Peru Central’s Leadership Team is still adjusting to its roles within the district’s new structure and continues to work toward its goals.
“I can assure you that student safety and a culture that is positive and healthy is the top goal,” he said.
During the meeting’s second public-comment period, Peru Central sophomore Kristen Duso told the board that Coakley not only served as a High School administrator but also as someone with whom students felt comfortable talking.
Since his departure, Duso said, students feel that little is accomplished by reporting problems to school officials.
“That’s why we feel like we have to take it into our own hands, and that’s why there’s a lot of people getting in more fights,” she said.
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