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School safety: Rowe parent asks for more student supervision

A R. Roger Rowe School parent has requested that the Rancho Santa Fe School District not only hire additional paraprofessionals to provide proper supervision of students at recess but also that all playground supervision staff is professionally trained on social and emotional issues.

Parent Brandi Miller had requested that the item be placed on the board’s Nov. 8 agenda for discussion, pointing out that the playground supervision ratios for paraprofessionals at Rowe should be lower—she said currently for second to fifth grade recess, the ratios are 56 children to one paraprofessional, with about 280 kids out on the playground together, leading to behavioral issues and safety concerns.

“Since bringing up this issue I cannot tell you how many parents have called me and emailed me that I don’t even know, to tell me their story. And I can tell you that much goes unnoticed, bullying and more, and it’s not dealt with properly and sometimes not at all,” Miller said. “This is not just about my child. This is about every child at this school. I am not trying to create an uproar, I would like to have a peaceful playground.”

Miller said she understands every family goes through cycles where kids are OK at recess and sometimes not, but she said someone is usually having a problem and many kids do not speak out. She said she has heard that supervision and behavioral issues are not just a problem at recess but during after-school sports as well.

“With my own past experiences and those of others that have shared, I felt the need to fight for what I believe is needed,” Miller said. “Our kids deserve a safe environment physically, socially and emotionally. They are fragile inside. The budget is not an excuse for not having trained, sufficient supervision at our school.”

Interim Superintendent Kim Pinkerton thanked Miller for bringing the issue to the board and heard the need for evaluating current practices, making changes when necessary and bringing parents into the conversation.

“As an administrator and a parent I appreciate your concern and the emotion tied to it because they’re our babies, they’re our kids and it’s very important,” Pinkerton said. “I am 100 percent committed to the safety of our students, all of our kids and our staff on this campus.It’s my highest priority.”

Pinkerton said it is more than just adding paraprofessional staff but also developing a tiered response to intervention as it relates to behavior. Pinkerton said the playground supervision conversation is part of a bigger picture that includes social emotional learning, the home to school relationship, communication between the classroom teacher and playground supervisor, and determining how staff can support the needs.

As the board is set to approve a $405,000 access control system next month, Clerk Sarah Neal said one of her concerns has been that the district focuses equally as much on campus climate as they have on physical campus security.

Neal said she believes the district’s comprehensive safety plan should include supervision, particularly as in a school safety survey earlier this year, 16 percent of parents disagreed or strongly disagreed that the level of supervision at the school was adequate.

“I would support some kind of evaluation of supervision because I think this has been a disconnect for a while,” Neal said, wanting to see that gap closed.

Outgoing board member Tom Barton said he believes the issue Miller raised is a big problem at the school and one he hoped to address during his time on the board.

“This is actually something that led me to want to run for this board in the first place,” Barton said. “I think that 16 percent is low because I know at least 10 families that have left because of bullying.”

Barton said in addition to there not being enough supervision on the playground, he wondered whether there was a way to maximize teacher time to be on the playground as they are the ones who know the kids best. If they can’t be on the playground, he said teachers should have conversations with paraprofessionals about issues in the classroom that could spill out onto the playground. He said the conversation should continue at home as well.

“Parents need to be involved, teachers need to be involved and we need to do more to try to encourage kids to be kinder to each other,” Barton said.

Neal said she would like to see the district delve more deeply into social emotional learning and for them to develop a clear code of conduct and a reporting system for incidents.

“There’s no zero tolerance here, kids get away with so much year after year, over and over and over again,” Miller said advocating for the district to set guidelines and expectations. “Have a high expectation and let the parents and kids know and make them stick to that and if they don’t, there’s a consequence.”

The school’s discipline plan currently includes verbal reminders, loss of privilege and the “respect room,” where students must attend during lunch to reflect and problem solve. Some behaviors are immediately referred to the administration.

Pinkerton said Megan Loh, the interim assistant principal, has met with grade level teachers and paraprofessionals to determine a continuum of issues or infractions that might come up and their consequences. While it is not a “code of conduct,” it’s a common if/then agreement on what the response should be if an infraction occurs. She said in the past the response has not always been consistent—for example, if a student swears, one staff member might give a warning while another would send them straight to the respect room. The goal is to develop a general response for behaviors.

In his comments, RSF School Board President Tyler Seltzer said he wanted the board to be extremely careful in throwing around the word “bullying.” He said the situations he heard described in the meeting have not been his experiences with his three children at the school, however, he said he understands that every situation is unique, “one kid feeling bad is one too many.”

He said it was a reasonable request to direct the interim superintendent to work on short-term and long-term action plans. He said he hoped any parent working group would include multiple voices and perspectives and that they take “as detailed and comprehensive a look at the issue as possible.”

Seltzer said parents should know that the topic is a priority for the board, particularly one of newly elected board member Kali Kim, who during her campaign expressed her passion about developing a positive culture and climate at Rowe and also advocated for more teachers in the hallways as well as out with students during recess and lunch.

The conversation will continue in upcoming school forums—a school town hall meeting will be held on Friday. Dec. 5 at 8 a.m. The board is also expected to discuss its goals around its social and emotional board priority at its Dec. 13 board meeting.

Last month the board approved a list of priorities for the 2018-19 school year that included maintaining a “positive and supportive school culture for all and foster a comprehensive understanding of mutual respect, leadership and resilience.”

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