Superintendent Enfield opens up about suspension policy at public session
Click the ‘Play’ button to hear the unedited, raw audio of Monday night’s ‘Conversation with the Superintendent’:
With an eye towards being open with parents and staff, Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield held a public meeting at Highline High School Monday night (Sept. 19), that resulted in detailed conversations over the controversial in-school suspensions that some say lack adequate punishments for repeat and often dangerous student offenders.
Enfield said the district has refined, and will continue to shape the in-school suspensions, so that those in need of more serious help will get it from hired professionals and internal assistance from the school administration.
Too many teachers quitting?
Persistent critic Laura Castronover of Des Moines (pictured above) – who was also on the district’s 40-person Capital Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC) that created the latest bond – said she pulled her child out of Highline schools because of the number of teachers leaving the district.
“How do you say that losing 200 teachers since June is normal,” asked Castronover.
Enfield said that number is about normal for a district this size.
“We actually keep very careful track of the rate at which teachers leave, so my first year it was a little over 10 percent, my second year it was 12.9 … after that it was 11.6, and last year it was 11.1 (percent),” Enfield said, adding that the number “sounds very scary” but looking at other districts it isn’t “off the charts” and the rate is going down.
She added that the district does exit surveys and “they leave for lots of different reasons.”
But the district is getting better at hiring teachers “so they will know what they are signing on for because we are a very special place” adding that as they hire better then can improve retention.
“We monitor it really, really closely,” Enfield said.
Castronover said she had heard that many left the district because they could not teach because of the disruption of some students as a result of the zero suspension policy.
‘No zero suspension policy’
“How much (money) has been budgeted for the zero suspension policy?” Castronover asked.
“We don’t have a zero suspension policy as that stands alone,” Enfield said. “Unfortunately, I think the confusion people make is we have a zero out of school suspension except when critical for staff or student safety policy,” Enfield said. “That is very, very different.
“As I said last year, we out-of-school suspended almost 475 times – that is very, very different from zero. I met with a principal today who was talking about an out-of-school suspension.”
Enfield said the district supports school staff in doing “what we need to do” if the student should not be on campus or if a student is a danger to the teacher, staff, or to students, “the issue is taken incredibly seriously.”
The district has spent money on specialists in re-engaging with students and pays for de-escalation training and specialists with the in school and out-of-school suspension programs.
Also, training is sought to help staff and teachers with calming down a student who is getting out of control.
“Rest assured that when a student needs to be taken off the campus, they will be,” the superintendent said.
No support for quality
A parent said she did not see what the district has done to support quality teachers.
“I understand from my son at Sylvester (Middle School) that fights break out regularly and they are not taken care of and the staff doesn’t want to take care of them but because I feel that they feel … they don’t think that they can,” she said. “Our kids have become guinea pigs for your zero suspension policy. I don’t think that is fair to our students.
“Proactive is better than being reactive and I think currently, this district is being reactive,” the parent added. “There are other things you need to do to make our schools safe.”
The parent said some parents are sending their children to Vashon Island and some also would send their children to private school if they could afford it. She added that there are good teachers in some schools.
“But I am not impressed at all with you, actually,” the woman told Enfield. “I don’t think you have done a good job for our district. I am surprised that they extended your contract.”
Enfield said the comments were fair, noting that when a person is in a public position “there is the price of that.”
The superintendent said language does matter, and there is a difference between zero suspensions and zero out-of-school except for safety of staff and students.
“I am not trying to minimize your concerns, they are real,” said Enfield, “but you do have to be clear in the language that we use.”
The parent said she feels the staff feels they get information “from the top and they think their hands are tied.”
When asked what was meant by “hands tied,” the parent spoke of an incident at Evergreen High School when there were no suspensions “because the administrators did not believe they could actually suspend kids.”
She noted that one principal did keep suspending students but “she is not a principal now – interesting, isn’t it?”
Enfield said there were concerns over safety, which spurred the beginning of reflective meeting to “monitor what is going on here.”
When a parent said there needs to be more than just sending a student out of a class for a while, there must be more serious consequences for the student, Enfield referred the parent to the school principal for a discussion because “this is a new year.”
A Mount Rainier High School teacher says does not feel safe, noting that last year a student threatened her life, was given a one day suspension in school, then followed her around and continued to walk the halls when given a three day in-school suspension.
“I think a lot of staff has been afraid and fearful of what is going on and that this was put out in the media,” the teacher said.
Enfield said she would meet with the teacher because if she did not feel safe, it “is a concern for me because I take those concerns incredibly seriously.” She noted that no one has lost their job because they expressed concerns about problems, or criticized her or her job performance.
A former district teacher said she left Highline because she did not feel supported by her principal. Enfield said that that was a concern because all teachers and principals need to have support and feel support is coming from the administration.
“We are really working hard to get the right messaging out,” the superintendent said.