ThunderRidge High School students concerned about the results of the recent Douglas County School Board election said a Nov. 11 meeting with district officials wasn’t productive.
“That meeting was not very empowering,” senior Sophie Pepin said, but added, “I think they do have a genuine interest in hearing what we had to say. That was not the end of the discussion.”
“Some of our questions were answered, but a lot of the questions they were talking their way around,” senior Chris Thompson said.
Seven ThunderRidge students attend the meeting with DCSD assistant superintendent of secondary education Dan McMinimee and director of high school education Steve Johnson. District leaders proposed the meeting after students planned via Twitter to boycott classes in objection to the results.
Four candidates who support the current board’s education reform efforts were elected to the board Nov. 5.
The students said the reforms the board enacted took a toll on teachers, and they’re concerned for them. Teachers are over-burdened by the extra work required with the block high school schedule and complicated evaluations, and some of the students’ favorites already have left ThunderRidge, students say.
According to DCSD statistics, 16 percent of ThunderRidge teachers — or 15 individuals — resigned last year. The district average was about 12 percent.
“I would say most of the concern is over the teachers — just pay and paperwork and standards,” said Pepin, who also is the Student Advisory Group co-president. “But some of the other things we mentioned were where money is being allocated, and where the top priority should be. We are hoping they can get more teachers just to take the workload off of the current teachers.”
Thompson said he felt district officials blamed Senate Bill 191, which requires teacher evaluations, for problems related to its own evaluations. Rather than follow the state’s evaluation program, DCSD created its own.
“One of the issues we were bringing up was testing, putting teachers into categories,” Pepin said, referring to evaluations that categorize teachers’ effectiveness. “There definitely is some blame to be put on Senate Bill 191, but there’s a lot of room for improvements, things we could do differently that were not required.”
The meeting didn’t give Thompson hope that much will change for the teachers.
“I didn’t think they were doing enough to help the teachers,” Thompson said. “I felt, you guys can just do a little more.”
On the bright side, Thompson said he gained a better understanding of the need for the high schools’ block schedule.
“When it comes down to it, it makes sense,” he said. “You’re only losing four minutes per class period, and it saves a lot of money.”
The students are worried more teachers will leave their school, saying morale is low.
The election results “disappointed so many teachers,” Pepin said. “Outside money still played a factor. And voters without kids were the ones that really made that election happen. I think it was just really hard for everyone.”
District officials offered little comment on the student meeting.
“We highly valued the opportunity to meet with the students for an hour and a half and hear their perspective as well as field their questions,” McMinimee wrote in an email. “If they have further questions we let them know they could contact us any time. We will use their input and the questions they asked as we move forward.”