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Plans discussed for improving safety in Nelson County Schools

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Adding a position, providing teachers with more discipline options, visiting homes and introducing a school resource officer were the top objectives listed at the end of Tuesday’s planning session on safety in Nelson County Schools.

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The meeting was the third step in a series of gatherings the district has hosted to address concerns of safety, academics and culture in the school system following an outcry from parents and teachers regarding issues in the classroom and with leadership.

Tuesday’s meeting, which focused on safety, allowed participants to list objectives, strategies and activities to address the top concerns previously pinpointed at the listening and brainstorming sessions held in June. The meeting, held at Nelson County High School, saw a little over a dozen participants including Central Office staff.

Board member Diane Berry attended and took part in the discussions. Berry collaborated with a group that included a district parent and student, as well as Nelson County High School teacher Col. Donna Lucchese and principal Tanya Jury.

Berry’s group wanted to look at how a consistent discipline plan could be implemented in schools. One point Lucchese brought to the table discussion was that teachers didn’t have many options when it came to issuing consequences for students. The group decided empowering teachers with more options, and having administrators support those options, was important.

“So often, the teachers feel like they can write a discipline referral and send it to the office and that’s it. Their hands are tied,” Jury explained to the room.

Summarizing some her table’s ideas, Jury said increasing face-to-face conferences with parents and having more meaningful discipline was also something to look at. When talking about meaningful discipline, the group wanted to see students not only suspended from class activities when necessary, but also from extracurricular activities in hopes that the punishment would have more of an impact and serve as a deterrent for future issues.

They also wanted to see students complete character training and reflection forms, as well as create a separate geographical location for “in-school suspension,” believing separating the students and making them think harder about their behavior would have a larger impact.

Some groups’ objectives and strategies overlapped. Many wanted to see the implementation of a dean of students to not only help identify and address behavior and disciplinary issues, but to also serve as a positive role model.

“We talked about recruiting somebody that has a background in behavior and truly loves kids, loves students” said Nelson County Early Learning Center Principal Holly Walker. “That person would work with the district and with the middle and high school to see where is the greatest need in our community right now.”

Another shared idea was to create a type of school behavior team responsible for meeting with students and understanding and reviewing disciplinary codes. Director of Elementary Schools Ann Marie Williams suggested the team could initially identify students with at-risk behaviors.

The team tied in well with another idea to conduct home visits and to develop connections with law enforcement, guidance counselors, Child Protective Services, mental health professions and others in the community to potentially address the root-cause of disciplinary and behavior issues and improve student outreach.

“How can we help? Is it the parents are going through a divorce? Is it drugs in the home? Is it something we need to be aware of?” Jury said.

Another group wanted to bring in a school resource officer for the middle schools, high schools and K-8 buildings.

“Not only would we need to set up what would be the consequences when the SRO steps in, but after those consequences are in place with the SRO, what is the transition plan” so it’s not a reoccurring issue, Williams said. That transition was something the aforementioned behavior team could be responsible for.

The discussions encouraged participants to look at strategies that could potentially be implemented within 60 days. They were also provided resources to determine who would be responsible for that implementation, such as the School Board or the Site Base Decision Making Council, and the estimated cost of adding certain positions. Copies of that information can be viewed at www.kystandard.com.

Planning sessions were also held Wednesday and Thursday for academics and school culture. With the sessions complete, Superintendent Anthony Orr said the information would be presented to the board, principals and others to determine how to accomplish objectives. Whether the strategies shared included policy changes at the school or district level, or adding resources, he said, communication will be key.