CHIMACUM — Addressing the discipline issues raised by numerous Chimacum High School parents has become Chimacum School District Superintendent Rick Thompson’s top priority, he said.
He vowed at the School Board meeting Wednesday to start a discipline advisory committee that includes at least two parents and would start meeting nearly every week.
He also plans to sit in on disciplinary hearings at the high school with Principal Brian MacKenzie and Dean of Students Mark Gudger, to review some past discipline of students and to generally spend more time in the high school.
“The perception I have heard about treatment of students includes strong, strong feelings on the part of several parents — not just one,” he said. “It’s important you understand I take your concern very seriously.”
By Thursday morning, Thompson had scheduled three meetings with parents, each about a week apart. Parents asked Thompson to find times that work better for parents and for the meetings to start once the holidays are over.
Thompson also stressed during the Wednesday meeting the importance of parents and students knowing their rights and how to appeal decisions. Those upset about disciplinary action can appeal the decision to Thompson and then again to the School Board, he said.
As the meeting came to an end parents high-fived and smiled as they left the building, a stark contrast to how they felt when they left the parent forum last week.
“I was pleased with the outcome of the board meeting and feel like we were heard,” said Kelly Brebberman, a CHS parent who attended the meeting.
“I am also happy that Superintendent Thompson has made us a priority and is being proactive in working to solve our issues.”
She said parents are hopeful for positive changes after the board meeting.
In a letter from the “Concerned Parents of Chimacum High School” that was read before Thompson’s remarks, parents told the School Board they didn’t feel their message was received.
“Honestly, we came away with nothing positive,” the letter says. “We want administration and the School Board to know that we are not against or upset with rules being enforced.”
Board member LuAnn Rogers said that she was concerned that parents felt they weren’t heard after the parent forum.
The letter says that students need to know they can trust administrators to have their best interests at heart, but now they are afraid to go to school out of fear of unreasonable and unjust punishment.
School Board Chair Mike Gould said he intentionally didn’t attend the parent forum last week so that administrators would have a chance to hear from parents — before the issue reached the School Board.
In the letter, parents said they were upset with the tactics being used against their children, saying they were used to fulfill an “alleged disciplinary quota” meant to justify the need for the Dean of Students.
“I’ve heard obviously from an awful lot of people in the community suggesting there might be some sort of disciplinary quota,” Gould said to Thompson. “Can you help me to understand why they might feel that way and — equally important — how those concerns can be alleviated?”
Thompson said there is no disciplinary quota.
Gould reiterated his question halfway through Thompson’s response, emphasizing that people feel there is a quota.
Thompson said there are no quotas, but the school does track daily discipline and attendance.
“When we measure attendance and we measure discipline and we actually put numbers on paper, it makes people uncomfortable,” Thompson said. “I can see how people can perceive there is an agenda to get numbers.”
Board member Robert Bunker said the district is facing many of the same problems as districts across the state and country are facing and acknowledged that parents have expressed problems with how high school administrators are enforcing the rules.
“We’re doing the right thing,” he said. “We may need to adjust how we’re doing it, but we’re doing the right thing.”
Gould ended the discussion by saying he learned a lesson from one of the parents while he was discussing the issue.
“One of the things I’m often accused of … is not listening,” he said. “I rack my brain when we’re standing there and we’re talking and I feel like I’m listening.”
He called it an “epiphany moment,” when a parent told him that people often listen to respond rather than listening to understand.
“I’d like everyone to ask yourselves … as you listen, are you listening to respond or are you listening to understand,” he asked of everyone who attended the meeting.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].