Athena eNews Update – 2.7.2013

This letter was originally emailed to the entire Athena community on February 7th, 2013

Our top two priorities at Athena High School continue to be focusing on safety and student learning.  Unfortunately the actions and decisions of several of our students last week have brought a spotlight on both of these issues.  Many questions and concerns are swirling around are community and I want to dedicate this week’s email update to addressing some of our concerns.

This experience has prompted us to take a wide range of actions to ensure that clear and consistent accountability occurs for all the students involved. Solving conflict through violence is completely unacceptable.  Student directly involved are facing both legal consequences with the police and administrative consequences from the school. We take every incident seriously and will not tolerate this kind of behavior under any circumstances.

We have also worked to develop a strategic and systematic response to these incidents that addresses both immediate and long term issues. The district has increased the security staffing in the afternoons and at dismissal in particular.  We have adjusted both administrative and security schedules to target both high traffic areas and the various places where students congregate at dismissal with extra adults supervising these locations. We have worked closely with the Greece Police Department to increase their presence at dismissal time and at after school events this week. We have also increased both security and teacher supervisors at school events in the evenings. We will continue to look for ways to ensure that we learn from these experiences and continue to provide our students with a safe and productive learning environment.

In addition to these additional safety measures we have put in place, we are working to address the culture in our building in terms of how we respond to conflict.  The administrative team has spent several days this week thoroughly investigating these incidents and have identified most of the students who were spectators.  We have met individually with each student we identified as having watched these events. We have also had conversations with each of these students’ parents.  These conversations were designed to help students understand that watching, recording or cheering on a fight is essentially endorsing and encouraging the behavior.  We have helped these students begin to understand that they are either part of the problem or part of the solution.  Finally, we are reminding everyone that the appropriate response when students begin to have conflict is to walk away and call for an adult. Every student I have talked to has been receptive and disappointed in how they acted.  Every parent I have spoken with has been supportive and is committed to reinforcing this same message at home. Together we will continue to shape the culture here to reflect what vast majority of our community believe in and value.

We recognize that although this is a sad point in Athena’s history we have an incredibly powerful teachable moment upon which we must capitalize. Our teaching faculty and counseling staff have been proactive and hard at work creating and administering mini-lessons and discussions on appropriate ways to stand up for what is right when their peers begin to make negative decisions.  We have begun each of the past few days with discussion questions and thought provoking statements posed over the announcements that teachers use to foster classroom dialogue as we process through these issues together. During advisement yesterday, every teacher led their class through a lesson on the difference between being a ‘bystander’ and being an ‘upstander’. Teachers continue to share with me that these discussions and lessons have been tremendously powerful learning tools.  We are continuing to work with our Positive Based Intervention Supports Team, our Olweus Bullying Prevention Committee and our Safety Committee to equip students with the skills necessary to reinforce the appropriate behaviors. We believe that virtually all of our students want to be proud of this school and we are dedicated to continuing to help them develop the skills and abilities to stand for what is right.

Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams and Deputy Superintendent Shaun Nelms have been extremely supportive and involved throughout the entire process. They continue to reiterate that school safety is the top priority and have been closely involved in our systematic response to these issues.

Greece Athena is an incredible community full of unbelievably talented students with limitless potential. The teachers are dedicated and passionate about their students and learning. The support staff is top notch, working extremely hard every day to help ensure that school runs smoothly.  The administrators are dedicated to helping lead our school community forward together. The actions of the students who chose violence as a means to addressing conflict were utterly unacceptable! However, these altercations do not define Greece Athena High School.  Although, these incidents have propagated a particular perception about our school community, they do not represent the values and character of the vast majority of our students.

Over the past several days, many of you have taken the time to call or email me directly to share your concerns, frustrations and perspective on our school. Everyone I talk with is disappointed by these events and is committed to progressing forward together to forge a better future.  Together we are committed to making this school the best it can be.  Together we are continuing our focus on both school safety and learning at high levels for all students.

I wish I could personally speak with each of you this week and share my passion for our school community and how much I see our community coming together to overcome these events.  We will not be defined by the actions of a few.  We are moving forward together.

Please call or email me if you have any questions.

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