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Parents, students, and former teachers all have to admit to the toxic environment at Green Island UFSD.
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Parents, students, and former teachers all have to admit to the toxic environment at Green Island UFSD.

Parent, student, and former teachers all expose what they call a toxic environment at Green Island UFSD

GREEN ISLAND (N.Y.)NEWS10) — Green Island Union Free School District parents and students say the district is sinking as teachers continue to jump ship. They estimate that around a dozen teachers have left the district since NEWS10’s last report. This is despite increasing violence in schools and lack of support from administration.

The district confirmed Monday that another person had quit. Heatly School Senior Sean Ellis stated that four of his teachers have left since August.

“Two of my favorite teachers that Ive ever had in my entire school career have left this year. Personally, I cant bring myself to go into one of their rooms,” Sean says.

He said that fights now occur weekly and that two more were reported yesterday. Sean was one of those students who staged a November walkout. He says it was a boiling point between one of their favorite teachers leaving, protesting the school district’s treatment of teachers, and failed attempts to speak with Superintendent Kimberly Ross on improvement ideas.

“We stood outside for half of the day in the pouring rain and cold. They tried to get us inside, but we refused. We were going to make them pay attention. Although it was somewhat spur of the moment, it was a very heated day. We were upset and emotional,” Sean explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Sean’s dad, Andrew Ellis, says the walkout was the spark to help parents catch on just how serious the situation is at the Heatly School. According to Ellis, 70 parents have asked for meetings with Superintendent Kimberly Ross since then. Andrew said that there was a coffee-and-talk session with Ross in December. However, there was no clear resolution. Further attempts to reach Ross were unsuccessful.

“During the December cafe, they had us all put our issues on the board and she grouped them up, but most of the parents felt just like [she]You ignored the problems. Okay, we are working to fix this. But how do you work on it? When will it be fixed? These are the things that we need to know,” Andrew says.

“The classrooms are struggling, the academics are struggling, the kids are out of control. The morale of the school is awful,” he further says.

“Anytime we would go to the administration or go to Ms. Ross herself and bring up an issue we were having and, you know, say hey somethings wrong and we as students are recognizing it when we shouldnt be, how can we fix this? The administration would go, oh its fine, well take care of it,” Sean adds.

According to them, the Green Island discipline policy is the first step in the cycle. Ross states that the policy is distributed to teachers several times throughout the school years. It says that teachers should address minor misbehaviors within the classroom.

The policy, however, stated that teachers must consider minor infractions like profanity, inappropriate remarks, and putdowns. Ross explained that her policy was that teachers should first try to resolve problems by calling parents at least three times before a student can go to the administrative office.

“They are the direct line to a parent’s child. Encouraging and supporting them to call home in those minor infractions is more impactful than if they send them to the office for the principal to handle,” Superintendent Ross says.

Andrew Ellis points to the increase in violent encounters at the school, as evidence that this policy has had a negative impact on some students’ behavior. By infraction three, they are already resorting aggressively.

“Teens push boundaries, and anyone can tell you that they will keep pushing and pushing and pushing until they find one,” he says.

Teachers who’ve left the district similarly agree. They claim they want to remain anonymous in order to protect their ability find future jobs but they feel the need to speak out about the treatment they received at Green Island UFSD.

“When they misbehave, they’re teenagers doing what kids do. I can take that, but teenagers push limits and it will get out of control if you don’t have limits,” one person says, further referred to as Teacher A.

Ross responds the disciplinary policy has since been changed to reflect “disparaging, disrespectful, and/or vulgar language directed towards a faculty/staff member” as a major infraction that can be referred to admin. Ross also claims that any violence has always been dealt with by the admin.

“We apologized to staff and said that this was an error,” Ross says.

“We have suspended 45 students out of our 300, with a total 150 days of suspension. That is quite a bit for our student population, but we do follow the code of conduct which is board approved every year,” she further explains.

Andrew Ellis and Teacher B both claim that the code is not being followed consistently. Teacher A also said that the most troubling thing about them was the way Superintendent Ross treats teachers when they approach her with questions.

“When you spoke to her, you had to be very, very sure you were careful not to say anything she would disagree with, because she made you feel like you couldn’t possibly disagree with her and be a good teacher,” explains Teacher A.

Another person, Teacher B, wrote in NEWS10:

In addition, to the toxic culture that was created by the administration, with low appreciation, low support and zero support I began to wonder how the district could afford four administrators for a student body of less than 300. This budget line is approximately $500,000. I would not trust my career and education in someone so inexperienced and unqualified. After 19 years of experience in the field, I was afraid that my career would be cut short. I would also be unemployed. Combining those fears with the trauma and toxicology that the Administration and Board hurled at faculty and staff every day, I decided it was time to move on.

“Asking administration to take an active role in behavior management was seen as tantamount to admitting you were incompetent or that your lessons weren’t engaging or that demanding accountability for students was the same as wanting to hurt them back,” Teacher A elaborates.

Teacher A refers to an email sent out district wide by Superintendent Ross and CC’d to Board of Education Chair Andrea Ryan. It contains statements from teachers that Ross wrote was highly offensive.

-“For those who want a pound of flesh for every infraction, may it be minor or major, how are you modeling what you desire from students?  If a child does not feel respected because an adult is snarky or unkind, how can you expect them to behave in your classroom?”

-“These same adults continue to just point the finger at the children and their parents.”

“I personally find it insulting on a number of levels. One, that these students are incapable of controlling themselves, and then as a teacher that you should just take it and accept it’s part of the job, and if you can’t take it, then you’re a bad teacher or you don’t have a good relationship with your students. You start to internalize it’s your fault. That weighs on you,” says Teacher A.

Ross says she and the school board “firmly believe no teacher should be subjected to verbal abuse by students” and she is “concerned” teachers feel unappreciated, but also says she cannot clarify the email without context. She claims her any of her interactions with staff are meant to push them towards “excellence”.

“Change is hard is it is, right? School improvement process is about change and thats hard for some people that have difficulty acknowledging that they may need to change their approach and practice,” she says.

“[Superintendent Ross] would also say we left because of the pandemic or that we don’t want to change, but all but one of the teachers who have left didn’t leave the profession, they went to another school district and I know of one person who took a 40 percent pay cut just to get out. This is not about money. It’s about escaping the disrespect and policies at Heatly,” Teacher A says.

“These kids are all remarkably kind, decent, and good young men and women. We love our students, I don’t know a single teacher who was happy to leave. It devastated us, it devastated me,” they go on to say.

When asked what they would most like to see about the Green Island Union School District, all who responded said that Ross should resign.

“We wish her no ill will, but I don’t see how the goal of improving the schools can take place when there’s no rapport with the people who are going to be able to do it. I don’t believe she has the ability to perform the job function she was brought in to do when she’s spoiled all the relationships and chased away all the good teachers,” says Andrew Ellis.

“Its not just that we dont like the administration or we dont like the superintendent, its that theres something wrong and its affecting us as students,” says Sean Ellis.

Teacher B writes:

I think the Board President, Superintendent, and Vice President should acknowledge their involvement in the downfall, and let the faculty and their families heal so that they can find ways to rebuild. 

And finally, Teacher A says: “At some point you have to admit your policies aren’t working. At this point, I feel she’s just holding on due to pride. But she needs to resign and give notice, so the district has time to find someone qualified and prepare for the next school year.”

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