The headmaster provides information about current events in the school, including information about bullying
Published Tuesday 22 November 2022 5:14 am
Bullying and school discipline were hot topics during Monday night’s State of the School Address at Albert Lea High School, presented by Principal Chris Dibble.
“Very often we are unable to tell the public or the students in the building or the teachers what actually happened,” he said.
Regarding how bullying and harassment was reported at school, Dibble said information was gathered from deans, principals, counselors and social workers and included interviewing students and collecting video evidence.
“All the evidence is documented,” he said. “If necessary, we involve the law enforcement authorities.”
He said while it might appear as if the administrators weren’t doing anything, it’s because they’re not allowed to share any data or confidential information regarding a student, whether it’s a suspension, a discussion, or a parent’s call.
“We must not report back to the alleged victim what we have done,” he said. “Very often it looks like no action, when in reality it is happening every time we receive a report. It is documented on paper. [Superintendent Ron] Wagner has access to all reports. If he wants them, we’ll keep them [on an online system].”
With that in mind, he said the best way to get things done is for everyone in the building to identify problems and report back to staff.
“One of our biggest challenges because of privacy laws and regulations, but one of the things I see is our ability to respond to social media issues, especially when it’s off-site, off-campus,” said Dennis Dieser, Treasurer for the Board. “It often happens that we know what happened but legally obliged you have to follow through. We know there are children who have many problems, but what is the best way to work with them?”
Dibble said the best way for the board to support the school is “just to know what we’re doing”, although he admitted that from an outsider’s perspective it might appear that the school had done nothing.
Board member Angie Hoffman said she was approached about the idea of having adult volunteers at the high school to “keep the peace.”
“I think it would be eye-opening,” he said. “If they can pass a background check, I wouldn’t turn them down.”
Student representative Marissa Hanson said such an idea could help the school get any support or feedback it needed.
According to Dibble, 25 of the building’s 1,188 students accounted for over 25% of all missed lessons among students. Over 30% of students were unexcused absenteeism and 81% were in class at least 95% of the time. Dibble also said that being in class at least 90% of the time is 90% on track.
“That’s an 11% increase from last year’s data,” he said.
He also addressed the types of visits he saw in the high school.
Dibble said that 65% of office visits are due to disruptive, disrespectful, defiant and disorderly behavior. In fact, just over 7% of office visits were related to bullying or harassment. Nine students accounted for a quarter of the office visits, over 90% did not have a single office visit and only 7% had more than one visit.
Seniors had the lowest number of suspensions outside of school, followed by juniors, sophomores, freshmen, and then eighth graders. Dibble attributed older students’ lower suspension rates to maturity.
“On average, 0.67% of our student days have been lost to out-of-school suspensions,” he said.
Violent behavior was also consistent with where the high school had been in the past. So far this year there have been fewer than 10 fights in eighth grade, fewer than five in ninth and eleventh grade, and about one in 12th grade. In the 10th grade there was no argument.
“It’s not okay,” he said. “Anyone who is fighting or is involved in a fight, we work with Albert Lea PD, we issue disorderly conduct tickets, we issue fifth degree attack tickets for these types of incidents,” he said. “We are doing what we can to make the environment a safe place.”
He also admitted that this year would be more difficult because of the new middle school eighth graders coming out of COVID.
“We heard from students last week that they felt like they weren’t being heard,” said Ron Wagner, the district superintendent. “We’ve heard from them in their actions, but what we need to do is create an environment where the students feel safe to speak out, safe that they will find the adult with whom they have a trusting relationship have to come and report if they don’t feel safe.”
He also emphasized that no student should feel insecure or invisible. He also felt it was important for the district to continue doing better.
To that end, he said the district is considering a bipartisan grant that would provide additional support. The grant is valued at over $1 billion.
“It’s something we take very seriously,” he said. “It is dear – it is a priority of mine as Superintendent and we will continue to do better.”
He also noted that students, staff and the community were being heard.
On another issue, Minnesota’s Comprehensive Assessment data was also low, a point Dibble addressed, noting that the state, county, and high school were parallel and going under. Nationwide, math scores were under 50%, while high school was just over 20%. In reading, the national score was about 50%, but high school scored about 30%. In science, the statewide score was just over 40%, while Albert Lea High School was under 30%.
“What pains us most about our MCAs are our participation rates,” Dibble said. “Very few of our students complete the MCAs.”
He described participation rates as “very low” but didn’t know why, although he wanted to know why, arguing that participation would give employees an opportunity to identify where improvements are needed and how they can help.
However, the Albert Lea Area School students improved their mean composite score on the ACT. In the school year 2020/21, 296 students took the exam, the average was 19.8. In 2021-22, 123 students took the test and scored a composite mean of 20.5. For comparison: in 2019/20 the group was 21.6, although only 58 students completed the test. His goal for this year: 23, which is considered a college-ready composite score.
The district also offered the military-administered Armed Forces Job Aptitude Test, described by Dibble as the best test for students who wanted to go straight into the workforce upon graduation.
In addition to ASVAB, Accuplacer was offered as another test for students attending two-year schools.
The high school graduation rate was over 80% last year, while the state graduation rate was slightly higher.
In terms of demographics, there are 199 seniors, not including seven currently on online courses, 203 juniors, 249 sophomores, 274 freshmen, and 263 eighth graders. Over 60% are White, 20% Hispanic, and almost 10% Asian.
“As we grow, we develop more and more cultural competencies and make sure we provide a welcoming environment for all of our students,” he said. “With demographics changing, we need to educate and learn how to enable all of our students to feel comfortable in school.”
Over 42% of high school students were eligible for free or discounted meals, over 6% were learning English, and 14% were special needs students.
The school has over 141 staff with 74 teachers and 23 paraeducators forming the largest staff demographic.
“I know that each of these staff members is there because they want to see our students doing great things, being safe and working with them,” he said. “I can guarantee 141 1/2 of them are all on the same page about how we treat students.”
Attendance at grammar school was just under 80% last year, just below the state average.
In the first quarter of this school year, the ninth and tenth graders each experienced at least 4,000 delays.
“There are two things these students have faced in their past that kind of make it [that] we’re retraining them to be on time and to be part of a community,” said Dibble.
One reason was that the students were in middle school during the pandemic. Dibble described these years as students transitioning from the same group to moving from classroom to classroom.
The other reason was the Great Recession.
“This group of kids was really struggling to learn some of the skills needed to improve society,” he said. “So we’re catching up with them and making sure we focus their time in school on what it’s going to be like when they graduate from high school and embark on a career or college path.”
Among the highlights, the number of tardiness and absenteeism decreased significantly from Q1 to Q2 with the implementation of Phase 2 of Operation Be On Time.
Dibble would like to see more participation in assessments and continuous improvement in attendance.