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Unruly Students Making Richards Junior High Unsafe, Teachers Say

Richards Special Education teacher Marilyn Tonks spoke Tuesday about being assaulted by a student and suffering a fractured wrist.A group of very disruptive students are out of control and creating a chaotic, often intimidating environment at Arthur A. Richards Junior High School, staff and teachers told the V.I. Board of Education.
In the wake of a Feb. 1 student stabbing at the school, the board held a fact-finding hearing at the Curriculum Center on St. Croix Tuesday evening, focused on how to achieve and sustain a safe school environment.
"It is a madhouse," said Hugh Clarke, a hall monitor at Arthur Richards. Clarke said he has been a monitor at several St. Croix public schools, and the level of order varies. St. Croix Educational Complex, for instance, "is in order to a certain degree," he said. "A major mission was accomplished there."
Most of the students are there to learn, but Arthur Richards has a number of kids who pay no attention to authority, who gamble in the hallways, skip class, ignore dress codes and get belligerent when corrected, he said. Clarke and several others said students who had been held back and were old for their grades, as well as too many special-needs children for the school’s resources, feed the situation.
"We have kids who are 16, 17 years old at Arthur Richards," he said. "The problem started in elementary school, but Arthur Richards is taking the blame. When you move a child right from fifth grade to eighth grade, I don’t know how that child is going to function."
The older kids who are not doing well and have given up, pay no attention to authority, he said.
"I am challenged by students on a daily basis," he said.
Darryl Miller, the school’s building manager, made many similar observations.
"Student behavior is increasingly becoming a safety issue for staff," Miller said. Morale is low, and staff feels students who are sent to the office for discipline are simply returned to class to continue bad behavior, he said.
"Some staff feel students should be fined when they break major rules," he said. "They feel that is the only way to change the behavior."
On a separate note, Miller said kitchen staff morale is low because of a hostile relationship between workers and a manager.
Special Education teacher Marilyn Tonks said there has been a steady increase in special-needs children, beyond what the school can cope with. Too many students are scoring way below grade level and need more remedial attention than is available. And some are highly disruptive on a regular basis, she said.
"A kid threw me across the room and fractured my wrist," she said, holding up her cast. "This kid is very rude. When he comes through the class he hits the other kids on the head."
Science teacher Kandi Facison, who came from a Texas school district where problems with disruptive children, gangs and violence are much worse, said more programs—from after-school to remedial reading and writing programs—would all help matters. Ultimately, more funding would be crucial, she said.
English teacher Patasha Tracey said resources were not being allocated effectively, with too much going for perks for administrators and not enough to educational needs.
"Our government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on luxury vehicles that can transport six or eight passengers but usually have one person, but we don’t have transportation for after school or co-curricular activities," she said.
Principal Daphne Williams agreed with some of the staff complaints, saying the number of students who are older than their grade level was a problem. A grade-recovery program to help failing students and a supervisor for the in-school suspension program is also needed, she said. Currently, if a student gets in-school suspension or after-school detention, the regular teachers have to stay late, too.
Williams added that a dean of students to take care of disciplinary issues would free her up to address other school business, including curriculum issues.
The problems have been growing for years and are a reflection of St. Croix society’s problems, she said. "We may not like it, but we are a reflection of our community."
Suggestions from the speakers on how to improve the system included:
— eliminating junior high as a separate educational level;
— revamping and re-instituting a serious alternative education system for at-risk kids;
— instituting block scheduling for elementary school and junior high; and
— giving the Board of Education more oversight authority and the power to select school superintendents.

The board will hold similar hearings on all three islands and continue gathering information from which to begin creating concrete proposals, she said.

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