By Adam Swift
City councillors raised concerns about school security and teacher morale during a public safety subcommittee meeting on Monday night.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dianne Kelly presented information on absenteeism, discipline, and school security during a 20-minute presentation to the council subcommittee, and then answered questions from the councillors for about an hour.
The meeting stemmed from a motion by Councillor-at-Large Dan Rizzo that the superintendent and school resource officers meet with the council to discuss “student safety issues including the use of and/or the discovery of illegal narcotics such as cannabis including edibles, and opioid related substances. Further, to discuss behavioral issues, truancy, and student safety not exclusively, but especially at Revere High School.”
During her presentation, Kelly said the number of students who have been chronically absent this year stands at 608, which she said is significantly higher than what the district is used to, but better than last year.
Kelly said there was a similar trend with discipline and incidents at the high school, which are higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic, but lower than last year.
Kelly also pointed to a number of positive indicators of Revere student success over the past year, including increased AP test participation and scores, and the number and range of colleges that have accepted students from the Class of ‘23.
Dealing with student behavior and security specifically, Kelly noted that there has been a significant increase in positions proposed for the next school year to address those issues. Those include an increase in security personnel at the high school, and the hiring of school psychologists, behavioral counselors, and student engagement coordinators to work on teams that will help address social and emotional wellness for students.
Ward 3 Councillor Anthony Cogliandro questioned Kelly about what is being done in the schools to protect students and teachers from crime in the schools.
“We work very closely with our School Resource Officers and the Revere Police Department, they are incredible partners to us,” said Kelly.
The administration meets with the resource officers every two weeks to discuss any potential issues within the schools, and Kelly said school staff pay special attention to any potential individual behavior by students in or out of the school that may warrant intervention.
“We also remove students from the school environment when we feel they pose a threat to other students or staff,” said Kelly.
Cogliandro also asked Kelly why she believed teachers are leaving the Revere schools.
Kelly noted that there are a number of reasons a teacher may leave the district, from life changes to retirements and other issues, but said that the retention rates in Revere are higher than across the state and that the 15 percent turnover rate is not unusual for a school district.
Cogliandro stated that he has heard from a number of teachers and parents about low morale in the schools, and was worried about a large exodus of teachers at the end of the current school year.
The councillor read one email he had received from a teacher he did not name who had left the district.
“I can’t stress enough what an utterly horrible place Revere High School is to work at,” the email stated. “It appears to me that it will be hemorrhaging teachers after this year. All I hear from everyone is I just can’t stand it.”
The email went on to claim that there is no attendance or phone policy in the school, that a large number of students were disrespectful and refused to go to class, and that the students are enabled by the administration.
“I’m not reading that to you to stir the pot, I’m reading that because that concerns me,” said Cogliandro.
Kelly said the claims made in the email were disturbing, and that she would love the opportunity to work with the teacher who sent the email.
“I don’t know what their experience has been, because I don’t know who it is,” said Kelly. “It’s definitely not the way we would want any teacher to feel.”
The superintendent said that many people in society do not appreciate how difficult it is to be a teacher.
“All I want to know, is are we going to do something to fix this, are we going to build the morale back, because we have amazing teachers in this community and they are so scared and unhappy,” said Cogliandro. “We have to be preventative, we can’t just react to things.”
Kelly said the administrative staff works very hard to engage teachers to make them feel welcome and part of the team.
“I can tell you that I know hundreds of teachers who would tell you they are glad to be here,” said Kelly. “I feel like the teachers in Revere are incredible people, they work really hard and they love our kids. They will do anything for our kids, and that’s to be celebrated.”
Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti brought up the issue of the number of fights on the campus of the high school, noting that one parent sent him five videos of fights in the hallways with groups of students watching the fights.
“If parents have video, we wish they would send it to us,” said Kelly. “Whenever we get video, we research it and we find out who was in the fights, we engage our SROs and we address it with the students and they get suspended. But we don’t always have that information; if people are giving you that information, I hope they are giving it to the school as well so we can address it.”
Visconti also asked what was being done to address issues of students congregating and smoking in the bathrooms.
Kelly said steps have been taken in the past several months to make sure there is always a monitor outside of each open bathroom in the school to address any issues.
Ward 6 Councillor Richard Serino asked about reports of non-students getting into school and sitting in on classes.
Kelly said there were two incidents that were addressed, one with a student letting in a friend, and another where a staff member let two students who were not fully enrolled attend class.
Rizzo asked Kelly about the school attendance policy, which states that students can miss more than five classes per quarter and still pass the class, provided they can show mastery of the subject.
“I can say that in the last year or two that there was a lot of chatter around people telling kids that attendance doesn’t matter,” said Kelly. “I can tell you that kids who do not come to school are not passing their classes.”
She said some people interpreted the change in the attendance policy that students could be absent as much as they wanted and still get a passing grade.
“That’s just not the case, you have to be passing the class, you have to demonstrate that you know the content in order to get any credit for the class if you have more than five absences,” said Kelly.
School Resource Officer Sgt. Joseph Internicola said that the issues going on in Revere are the same as issues going on around the state and the nation. He said that two of the biggest issues he sees that parents have to keep an eye on is the use of cellphones and vaping.
Kelly closed the meeting by urging anyone who has issues with the district to come forward and make them known.
“I can’t fix problems when I can’t identify where they are or who is contributing to them,” said Kelly. “If we are all really seriously concerned about student safety in the schools, then we all need to do this work together, so I am thankful to the council for taking the time to hear this presentation tonight.”