NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A former Newport News Public Schools psychologist is calling for change when it comes to addressing behavior in the school system.
The psychologist, who asked to remain anonymous, worked for NNPS for several years, even working with Richneck’s administration at a different school. She said something needs to be done.
The woman detailed her experiences with the district’s Student Success Team program – a program that’s used when a student is struggling academically or behaviorally.
She told us when a teacher, counselor or psychologist refers a student, a meeting must take place with administrators, the student’s teacher and parents to create a learning plan.
The former employee said on two to three occasions when she initiated referrals, meetings were never scheduled. She also said she heard of similar instances from other colleagues of administrators failing to address referrals.
“It was very frustrating,” the woman said. “I will say that counselors and I were often called in to help manage students that were having some explosive behaviors and it was frustrating to see those behaviors persist and the process that could try to help put some supports in place for those students just wasn’t happening.”
She said she was disheartened when she learned of the shooting at Richneck Elementary.
“These issues had persisted, and it had escalated to a point where it had put a teacher in danger,” the woman said.
She went to her supervisor and shared her concerns with administration regarding referrals but did not see a change.
“In Newport News Public Schools there is a process by which staff members can make complaints of administrator misconduct,” she said. “So the policies and procedures are there, I just feel that they’re inconsistently followed up on. There’s definitely a climate and culture staff concerns about students and other staff people is not taken seriously.
“The climate seems to be, at least the perception from several teachers and staff people that I have talked to as well as my own perception, is that oftentimes, the issues are swept under the rug because it’s easier to think that there’s no problem when there is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
The woman’s concerns are not unique. Dozens of other Newport News educators shared their own stories during Tuesday’s School Board meeting.
“We are concerned that this has become a more common practice for teachers to be left with the burden to handle discipline alone,” said Sarah Marchese, PTSA president at Warwick High School. “We ask for a complete review for handling the policies and procedures of discipline issues in our schools.”
In the district’s Nov. 2022 board meeting, a presentation was given on student discipline, comparing data from the 2019 and 2021 school years. There was a 40% decrease in incidents and infractions and a 19% decrease in removal from instruction.
“Teachers did a phenomenal job of referring less students and handling situations in the classroom,” said Superintendent Dr. George Parker during the Nov. 15, 2022 meeting.
But teachers shared a different perspective Tuesday night.
“We see students being assaulted (and) we see teachers being assaulted … daily,” said Djifa Lee, a teacher at Saunders Elementary. “Referrals are so closely tied to accreditation, and this puts educators and office staff or administrators in a tough position.
“They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want to represent their school well and be able to show numbers that are representative of their community, but also they are penalized for referral numbers that are high.”
Gildersleeve Middle School teacher Cindy Connell echoed the sentiments of many others Tuesday.
“This is not the climate that we want in our school system,” Connell said. “Meaningful change will never happen if this continues.”
The psychologist agrees.
“I feel in some ways its partly a band aid fix on the problem where they really need to get to their root of how did this these shootings occur,” the woman said, “what procedures or policies were not followed and what could be implemented better as well as how can we create a culture that minimizes student and staff stress.”
10 On Your Side reached out to Newport News Public Schools regarding its Student Success and referral process.
A spokesperson told us that “a classroom teacher may recommend a student for the Student Success Process based on diagnostic test scores, academic progress, behavior, safety or wellness. The student is then assigned to an intervention program which could include an interventionist, a tutor, small group instruction, etc. There is a checkpoint and monitoring process for the student.”
Questions about program concerns and evaluations were not answered.