HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Huntsville City School Board member Michelle Watkins held a listening session Tuesday to find out and address issues at the struggling Rolling Hills Elementary school.
It’s a school in her district that has been the source of concern for parents, teachers, and now, school leaders.
“I want them to be reassured that we are listening to them,” she said. “I want them to be reassured that we understand there are some problems and we are here to help.”
Watkins said a big part of the listening session was to find out community questions and issues, and make a plan to fix them.
It was standing room only at the meeting.
Some parents brought up issues about special education at Rolling Hills, saying they don’t believe their children are supported.
Others say the teacher retention rate at Rolling Hills is low, and their children have had multiple teachers in just a matter of months.
“There’s no consistency,” one parent explained.
Other parents discussed bullying. A man explained that his daughter was stabbed with a pencil.
“We know who they are,” he said about the students responsible. “Let’s get the bad kids out of the classroom.”
Teachers spoke up too, saying there may be problems but they care about the students.
“Teachers at Rolling Hills do love those students,” said one teacher. “We love them with all our hearts. And we come to school every day to make a difference. I know I do, and I know the people I work with do.”
Other educators remarked about the discipline issues that plague the school.
“The classroom was so disruptive,” one teacher recalled. “Students running in and out of the doors, throwing things at teachers, cussing teachers out. It was ridiculous. I’ve never seen anything like it.” She said it’s becoming hard to educate students, even the ones who want to learn, because some students revel in misbehavior.
“Somebody has got to support the teachers,” one parent commented. “There needs to be some action taken if they’re going to disrupt class where kids can’t learn.”
One woman said the answer may lie in having a different alternative school than the system the school is currently using. Huntsville City Schools has revamped its alternative school program, and she believed what is in place now is not working.
Others suggested bringing on more administrative staff, like an assistant principal, to assist in discipline.
Many believe one of the biggest things that can be done is to hold students to a higher standard, and ask kids and parents to be accountable for the students’ actions.
“They have to have somebody who is willing to stand up and tell them, ‘Your behavior is unacceptable, I expect more from you,'” said one woman. “Not just tell them they’re bad, but let them know they can be better. Because right now I get the feeling they know they’re bad. But there’s nobody telling them that we expect more.”
Many parents agreed to be present in the schools, if the principal allows them to come, observe, and help.
Board member Michelle Watkins asked school system administrators and incoming superintendent Matt Akin to be present at the meeting.
“I think it’s important,” said Akin. “I think this first step in problem solving is listening.”
And the next step, said Watkins, will be action.
“We’ll go back and talk and discuss what the comments were, and what the concerns were. We will develop a plan with the elementary education director and the curriculum specialist, and let’s get our kids on track to learning,” said Watkins.