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Covington Board Addresses Superintendent Contract, Bullying Concerns

The Covington board of education approved a new four-year contract with Covington Independent Public Schools Superintendent Alvin Garrison and also addressed concerns of bullying.

The board met last week and approved an 18 percent pay increase for Garrison. The new contract goes into effect on July 1.

All board members except Tom Haggard approved the contract. The River City News previously reported on the contract extension offer and Haggard's dissent in October.

"I could not in good conscience approve a contract that included a significant pay increase for the Superintendent, when almost all metrics of success are heading in the wrong direction, including student enrollment, teacher retention, and academic achievement," said Haggard, in explanation of his 'no' vote last week. "With an all-funds budget of $111 million, our students, parents and community deserve better opportunity."

Meanwhile, the mother of a student at Holmes High School attended the meeting to ask for help with what she sees as a growing problem of bullying at the high school and middle school.

The mother told the board that her daughter has been bullied throughout middle school and now in high school and had considered suicide. At the beginning of this school year her daughter was punished for fighting, she said, and now the family wants to move out of the district.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janice Wilkerson and Director of Human Resources Ken Kippenbrock spoke on the issue.

Wilkerson said that not only is the world suffering from COVID-19, but the country is dealing with civil unrest, impacting attitudes. She views that issue as another pandemic.

Wilkserson provided statistics from 2019 and 2021 since students were mostly not physically present in school in 2020 due to COVID-19.

She presented a graph showing that there were seven incidents of fighting in November 2019 involving 14 students, while in November of this year there were four incidents involving ten students.

She explained that when an incident occurs it has to be classified as fights, or assaults, so that the district can deal with it appropriately. Interventions vary as to what the students' needs are, she said.

Counselors work on problem-solving skills with students such as taking a breath, and slowing the breathing, to de-escalate situations.

The board was not happy about the incidents.

"When she spoke, I think it moved all of us, in this room," said Board President Glenda Huff, referring to the mom who talked to the board. "As I'm listening to keywords there, and we always listen to keywords - suicide, that any child would think that, that means to me that we as a district aren't supporting that child."

Huff talked about hearing the mom say that she was told that she should have taught her daughter conflict resolution, and Huff said that she didn't know of any household in America that taught children conflict resolution, how to just walk away from conflict.

"If I'm being threatened, I'm going to retaliate," Huff said.  

Huff said that the district has funds for additional training and that it should learn how to address parents' concerns if they ask about behavior issues.

"We  don't put the blame back on the family," Huff said, "because we don't know what's going on in their household. But what we can do is offer support, whether it is in the form of a social worker, or whatever. We have to get better at this."

Huff said that she regularly hears from her front porch students threaten one another. She said that it seems to begin in middle school and carry into high school.

"I don't know what the answer is, I just know we have to do better. It's safety, it's education, it's caring. We're better than this," Huff said.

Huff said that principals are in the trenches, but she said everyone needs a wake-up call. She acknowledged that she allowed the mom more than the normal two minutes to speak because "she needed to be heard, and we needed to listen."

In other business, the board approved an increase in pay for the transportation department for drivers, monitors, and mechanics.

The board unanimously voted to name the Holmes Fieldhouse Scorer's Table after Gary Huhn, who works in school support for the district.

-Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
Photo: Holmes High School (via Covington board of education)