5 Investigates: Changes at Washington Middle School

Local News

Washington Middle School in Green Bay came under the microscope when a teacher publicly resigned at a school board meeting last summer, saying she felt endangered at the school. Now that the school year is half over, what has changed and has there been improvement? Those are questions Local 5’s Kris Schuller posed to district leaders.

It’s been half a year since Washington Middle School teacher Kirsten Westcott went before the Green Bay School Board and resigned.  Saying she was no longer willing to put her life at risk.

“I fear for my safety every day, I’m equally afraid for the safety of my colleagues and most importantly my students. We are in danger every day when we show up to our school,” Westcott said.

Concerns she put in a long email to school board member Ed Dorff a month earlier – which he immediately shared with the entire board.

“The level of severity was disturbing, the frequency and the levels,” said Dorff.

In the email Westcott wrote “safety of students and staff has been deteriorating for a long time. A student told staff, I’m going to kill the teacher. My students, colleagues and I are sexually harassed daily. I see signs of PTSD in my colleagues and in our students.”

“Until we got that information, certainly not the board or the administration downtown was aware of just how serious it had gotten,” Dorff said.

“That particular teacher made it clear the behaviors she was encountering in school were affecting her in a very personal way,” said Tom Hoh, executive director of secondary schools for Green Bay Area Public School District.

With Washington in the spotlight, the school district acknowledged changes needed to be made before the start of this school year.  An additional associate principal was hired, another counselor, three more teachers and five new monitors to work where needed during the school day.

“We’ve added layers of supervision, we’ve added layers of resource to provide support for kids and teachers and our number one goal was to create a safe environment,” Hoh said.

They also made a new commitment to explain to students – the consequences of their actions.

“The game plan starting last summer was to bring in more resources to address the immediate issues of safety in the school and I think that’s been done,” Dorff said.

So Local 5 checked by comparing data from the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year –  against data from the first semester of the current school year, to see if a more focused effort on addressing behavioral problems was working.

First from police we found calls for service to Washington were nearly cut in half with 81 lissued ast year and 46 this past semester. And as for police citations issued to students –  57 were written last year and just 13 the past semester.

“It’s a lot better, our number for citations are lower this year than they were last year,” said Lt. Jeff Brester of the Green Bay Police Department.

Brester is in charge of the department’s school resource officers.

“We’re noticing that there are a lot of students we’ve had trouble with in the past and now not having the issues,” Brester said.

And when comparing out of school suspensions issued in each semester, it certainly appears the district is taking a more aggressive stand. The district issued 242 suspensions in the first semester of last school year and 373 this past semester.

“I think it’s an indication we have done exactly what we set out to do,” Hoh said. “We were going to make sure that poor student behavior would not be tolerated.”

“I think once the kids realize they’re being held more accountable, even with our own children, once you have a structure in place and they understand what the expectations are, you get better behavior results,” Brester said.

“They are looking at trying to quell things much quicker. They are looking to make sure behaviors are addressed as fast as they can. And now they have to look at the next step,” said Dorff.

And that according to the school board member means helping all these students care more about their report cards, then causing trouble.

“It has got to change and it will change,” Dorff promised.

So that one day soon Washington makes headlines for academic success instead of bad behavior.

“How do we get to that next level of student achievement?” said Hoh. “That’s the next chapter I’m eager to figure out and understand.”

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