Parents Make Impassioned Pleas To Improve Climate At Turn Of River Middle School

June 28, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

STAMFORD, CT — The Stamford Board of Education is seeking ways to improve school climate and safety at Turn of River Middle School after a year in which there were reports of bullying, fights and threats.

On Tuesday, several TOR parents spoke at the Board of Education’s regularly scheduled meeting and made impassioned pleas for the school board and administration to step in and do something.

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Before the public comment, Matt Laskowski, who recently moved from his role of executive director for school innovation to interim associate superintendent of middle schools, presented a plan school officials hope will curb such incidents at TOR going forward.

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Notably, the plan looks to review and refine the district’s code of conduct, cell phone policy and a discipline matrix. A “hallway sweep protocol” will be implemented, and administrators will maintain a visible presence in the hallways, at lunch and during arrival/dismissal.

A “see something, say something” protocol will be used via a monthly meeting to provide opportunities for the school community to continuously report concerns. A third School Resource Officer will also be added to the school.

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Additionally, a School Climate Committee will be formed and meet at least monthly during the school year.

“There is an opportunity here, not just for TOR, to put some of these practices in place across all middle schools to ensure coherence,” Laskowski said.

According to Laskowski, there were 84 incidents that resulted in out-of-school suspensions, affecting 67 students.

Eight students entered into the expulsion process, and three were officially expelled, Laskowski said.

There were 10 student arrests.

TOR parent Alyssa Bernstein said she has tried to get the district’s attention since last August about the environment at the school.

She called the situation “shameful, embarrassing, frustrating, but really neglectful,” mentioning reports from teachers who said they were assaulted by students.

“It wasn’t just one teacher assaulted or one student terrorized or one parent not communicated with,” she said. “Every problem at TOR has been systemic.”

Stamford resident Brian Ash, whose child graduated from Stamford Public Schools this year, said there has been a “complete breakdown” in trust between parents and TOR Principal Sherri Prendergast.

“If you don’t address that, everything else we talk about tonight is a waste of time,” he said.

Ash said teachers asked him to speak up about what’s going on “because they’re afraid to raise their voice.”

“These are serious issues. Trust has been completely eroded. You have to get involved, you have to do something,” Ash told the board. “The school is being run like a prison. It’s not fun, the kids don’t enjoy it.”

TOR parent Christopher Nanos, who went through the SPS system, said he’s seen family and friends leave the district for no other reason than they were concerned about the quality of schools in Stamford.

“Having witnessed the hot mess that was this school year at TOR, I’m now wondering if the families who left were right all along,” Nanos said. “For the first time in my life, I’m embarrassed to admit my kids are enrolled here, and I’m questioning if I made the right decision.”

Nanos called TOR a “Lord of the Flies school.”

“There’s a systemic problem here, a toxic and hazardous environment that our kids and teachers do not deserve,” he said.

Following the public comment on Tuesday, Board of Education Chair Jackie Heftman made brief comments.

“Middle school is hard enough without children feeling unsafe or bullies, and there are specific remedies in the [district] policies on how these instances are supposed to be handled,” Heftmans said. “The only thing I can say to you this evening is we hear you, the superintendent hears you, and that’s the reason why the plan that has been adopted is going forward.”

Heftman noted that her children went to TOR.

“I have very, very fond feelings for that school. I want that school, the board wants that school, and all of our schools, to be environments where children can learn safely without being bullied with the highest caliber curriculum that we can supply.”

In a message posted on the SPS website on Tuesday, schools Superintendent Dr. Tamu Lucero said there have been news articles and social media posts in recent days regarding reported incidents at TOR.

“While we cannot substantiate everything that is being shared publicly, it is clear that Turn of River experienced significant challenges in creating a positive school climate for students, staff, and families during the 2023-24 school year,” she said. “A positive school climate contributes to a successful school experience, and we are committed to helping Turn of River improve its school climate so everyone feels safe, welcome, and supported in their school community.”

Lucero said it was “an extremely challenging year” at TOR, and that the district is committed to creating a more welcoming school environment.

Community feedback sessions on TOR and the school’s plan have been scheduled for July 11 and the week of July 29 and Aug. 12.

You can watch Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting in full here.

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