Thu July 26, 2012
Infrastructure Issues? Parents & Teachers Say There’s More to School 16 Problems
On Thursday, July 26, the Rochester City School Board is voting on the future of School 16 and its students. The building is falling apart and in need of extensive repair and renovation. But as WXXI’s Helene Biandudi reports, the problems may run much deeper than infrastructure. Some teachers and parents say violence within the classroom is becoming commonplace.
“This is a typical bathroom that we have,” said School 16 Principal, Matt Laniak. “And you notice the door opens right up and there are no partitions.”
Bathrooms without sinks or privacy, peeling paint, uneven hallways and rodents. Laniak says that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues at the school.
“Sometimes the sinks work, sometimes they don’t,” Laniak said. “And then of course the odor, which is when it's 90 degrees with no air conditioning, it just comes wafting down the hall so that's really bad.”
Let’s face it, School 16 needs an extreme makeover, and it needs it fast. The infrastructure problems are so severe; the school district is weighing a few relocation options for the school this fall, which include moving all the students to Freddie Thomas High School. Laniak says staying in the current school building shouldn’t be an option.
“I asked the faculty and I wouldn’t do it, would you send your own children here given the condition of the building and not one person said yes,” explained Laniak.
But one teacher at School 16 says the reason might not be just brick and mortar.
“We had kids bringing in alcohol, we had teacher assaults, we had threats with weapons, teachers were threatened with weapons,” said 7th grade social studies teacher, Chris Bianchi.
He says violence and discipline problems school-wide override any infrastructure issues. And Bianchi calls this past year at the school “mass chaos” that was swept under the rug.
“Even though these issues were brought up as far as school safety,” Bianchi said. “Brought to the attention of our leadership, they weren't addressed. And things just kept getting worse and worse as the school year went on,” said Bianchi.
“As the weather heated up and the building got hotter, and the smells and everything, yes, tempers were, you know what teachers may have put up with earlier in the year they weren't at the end of the year,” Principal Matt Laniak explained.
What Laniak blames on the hot weather, teacher Chris Bianchi blames on poor leadership by school administrators. He says when teachers sent disruptive students to the office, oftentimes, they were sent right back to the classroom.
“We had a teacher that was I think about 7 or 8 months pregnant and two students said that they were going to cut the baby out of her and throw it in the grass,” Bianchi said. “And that student was removed from class and then an administrator sent the kids back from class saying ‘well they really couldn't do it so just go back to class.’”
“Upon arriving at 16 school and going into the doors of 16 school, that just blew me away,” said parent, Derek Miningan.
Miningan’s son goes to the school. He transferred there this year when they moved from Buffalo to Rochester. Miningan says walking into the building was like a scene from the 1989 movie Lean on Me.
Miningan says his son won’t go back to School 16 this fall. Just this week, he enrolled him in a local charter school.
“I mean the kids were out of control,” Miningan said. “They were trying to get some kids lined up they were trying to get kids to their classrooms and all different kind of stuff was going on and it just didn’t seem like an environment conducive to learning.”
Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas admits the school has been dealing with violence in the classroom, especially this past year, but…
“The number one thing that the school has been dealing with is the physical condition of the building which has contributed to some of the behavior,” said Vargas.
And Vargas says Central Office did respond to some of the discipline problems at the school.
“We sent additional people, to support the school principal, Vargas said.” “It would be a mistake to think this is discipline, I wish I could tell you these problems were unique to one building.”
Vargas says part of the problem is the school has gone through a few administration changes. School 16 is also a grow-out school. So that means a new grade-level is added each year. In the fall, it will be a full K-8 school. And Vargas says as the older students come on board, discipline issues get worse. Also space is limited. So limited, kids sent to detention go to a trailer behind the school building. And when trailer is too full the kids get sent right back to class.
“I don't know if that made the teachers happy all the time,” said Principal Matt Laniak. “But again it's a space issue right so you have to pick and choose your priority cases.”
Teacher Chris Bianchi says it’s no surprise that School 16 is now one of the lowest performing schools in the district.
“If you're returning kids to class that are being abusive to other kids that are being distracting to other kids, how is that helping the majority of the kids that want to learn? You're sacrificing twenty kids for one or two.” Bianchi said.
The School Board will vote tonight [July 26, 2012] on the future of School 16. And Vargas insists, the options given to the Board to move the students are only because of the physical condition of the building and nothing else.