Lenox's school district faces ongoing cases of bullying amid a year … – Berkshire Eagle

Substitute Principal Timothy Lee acknowledged that the sudden resignation of Principal Salvatore Frieri in early September was “a shock, and in the wake of COVID, hit the staff really hard.” 

Substitute Principal Timothy Lee acknowledged that the sudden resignation of Principal Salvatore Frieri in early September was “a shock, and in the wake of COVID, hit the staff really hard.” 
LENOX — Making his first formal public appearance as interim school superintendent during Monday night’s School Committee meeting, Howard “Jake” Eberwein III coined the phrase, “The Millionaire Mindset,” referring to high expectations and standards in the district. But the three-hour session included detailed discussion on student bullying and harassment.
Presenting his Lenox Memorial Middle and High School Improvement Plan, substitute Principal Timothy Lee, a former Lenox school superintendent and Morris Elementary principal, acknowledged that the sudden resignation of Principal Salvatore Frieri in early September was “a shock, and in the wake of COVID, hit the staff really hard. They’re still recovering from the sudden reset that took place afterwards.”
Lee listed goals during his tenure that winds up in late January:
• Making school operations as normal as possible to ensure success for students and educators, and reinstating regular feedback and formal evaluations for faculty.
• Increasing communications for students and faculty, creating opportunities for school leaders and teachers to keep families connected and informed during a year of continuing transition, including the upcoming appointment of an interim principal and a longer-term principal. “We’re going to make that as smooth as possible,” he said, by overlapping and setting up teams for consultation on a clear set of goals.
• Creating a “safe school environment” in response to the bullying audit commissioned by the School Committee and released last summer. “The report revealed a concerning number of incidents and inconsistent school response to bullying and harassment,” Lee said, adding that the impact of those problems is lingering in multiple grades at the middle and high school.
“Indeed, some students still report feeling unsafe in the school on a regular basis,” he acknowledged.
Plans include counteracting responses, clarifying school policies and procedures on harassment, bullying and the student code of conduct. But the consequences for committing offenses remains unclear, Lee said. “It’s also unclear in some cases what students and parents should do” in response to “unwanted attention, harassment or bullying.”
Students, parents and families will receive information on the boundaries for student conduct. Additional training for staff is planned for trauma-response sensitivity and intervention for “positive behavior intervention and support” to promote positive outcomes for students.
• Training of students and staff will emphasize activities “to promote acceptance, inclusion, and to combat hate,” Lee explained, including a workshop on issues facing LGBTQ students in the high school “to make sure they feel heard, seen, and welcomed in our school community.” A student leadership group with two faculty members, named “No Place for Hate,” will focus on equity, acceptance and inclusion.
“Students who engage in harassment or perhaps even bullying will know immediately from their peers that the behavior is not welcome in school,” said Lee. “We’re not there just yet, the tide is starting to turn but I still think we have not empowered bystanders enough to be correcting their peers in such a way.”
Responding to a question from School Committee member Oren Cass about the consequences for “student offenders,” Lee commented that a half-day or full-day supervised in-school suspension is more effective. Under new state regulations, suspending and sending a student home requires that a felony had been committed or that the conduct creates an unsafe situation at school.
Moreover, at-home suspension might be enjoyed by students playing video games at home while removing them from learning and creating a hardship for parents, he said. “I haven’t found out-of-school suspension that effective, so we do in-school suspension as much as possible,” Lee said.
Also, there’s a new athletics code of conduct for students, which requires the highest standard of conduct or risk losing practice or playing time, or even loss of eligibility to take part in school sports.
Lee also described a national and regional staff shortage that caused some Lenox positions to be filled just as the school year started. In the past, the town’s schools could count on numerous applications for open teaching positions, he said, but that’s no longer the case, especially in math, special education and world languages.
Detailing post-pandemic learning gaps, Lee noted many essential skills are missing among more students who move up from grade to grade.
He also commented on how “social skills and social-emotional readiness” were impacted by remote learning, disruptions after students returned to school buildings and an over-abundance of screen time for younger kids.
It was especially challenging for students compromised in social skills prior to the pandemic “to get back into the swing of things,” Lee acknowledged.
He credited a “highly skilled, dedicated and optimistic faculty and staff” at the school, focused on collaboration on topics such as social-emotional learning, as well as strong community support for the schools, not only financially but also by volunteering and participating on committees, school councils and PTOs. “It’s made a great difference,” he said.
The School Committee voted unanimously to accept Lee’s School Improvement Plan.
Eberwein, the interim superintendent employed three days a week, will be appointing a new interim principal at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School and supporting the committee’s work in seeking a new longer-term superintendent.
As a former superintendent of the Pittsfield school system from 2008-12, he pointed to Lenox as a desirable destination for administrators and faculty.
Commenting on the recent transition period following the surprise resignation of Superintendent Marc J. Gosselin, Jr., taking effect last Friday after 18 months of his four-year contract as he accepted a superintendency in northwest Connecticut, Eberwein cited him for being “generous with his time.”
He also credited other administrators in the central office at Town Hall and “many familiar faces” during his whirlwind tours last week at the middle and high school and Morris Elementary School. Eberwein has 30 years of experience in Berkshire County public education, including a stint as part-time superintendent of the Lee-Tyringham school district that ended in early 2020.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at [email protected].
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