BH district officials to community: We need help

BENTON HARBOR — The students and staff at Benton Harbor Area Schools need help from the community to turn the district around, Interim Superintendent Patricia Robinson told trustees during their Tuesday meeting.

“We need the help and support of the community,” she said. “... This is a community effort in making sure our buildings are safe and that we are giving the students what they need.”

Earlier in the meeting, three staff members at International Academy at Hull, two of them teachers, told trustees that student behavior at the school is out of control.

“It’s not working,” said Candice Walker, who helps teachers deal with behavior problems at the school, which teaches grades first through third. “... By the time we start the beginning of the school day, we may have anywhere between 15 to 20 situations that arise.”

Right now, she said there are three security officers and herself at the school trying to help 357 students have a calm instructional environment so they can learn.

Deborah Smith-Taylor, a second-grade teacher, said she was having a great school year in part because she had a smaller class of 22 students, making the room have more of a family feel to it.

Then on Monday, she had to take on more students because classes were combined.

“So now our rooms are filled to the brim,” she said. “The teachers’ work has been increased by almost 25 percent. This is not what is best for the kids.”

She said smaller class sizes are needed so teachers can help the students achieve better results.

“This is not the place to cut money,” she said. “Not only are our students being robbed of a good learning environment, the teachers are overwhelmed, and no matter how much we love our kids, we can’t teach under these circumstances. If we want to show growth on our test scores for the state, we’re being sabotaged. There will be very little growth under these circumstances.”

Another teacher, Kathleen McCourt, said some students are kicked, punched and bullied at school and there appears to be no consequences.

“The vast majority of our students are below grade level in both reading and math, and to make progress with them, we need fewer students in the classroom, not more,” she said.

Robinson said the district had to combine a classes because of a dip in enrollment, to be financially responsible.

“I do understand it. I get it,” she said. “I’ve been a ... classroom teacher for a number of years. The other thing that we do have in our faces every day is our finances and our budgeting issues and challenges that we have.” 

She said the district’s student count on Oct. 2 was 1,786 students, which is down 66 students from the 2018-19 school year. But it’s not as big of a drop as the previous year, when the number of students dropped by 285 – from 2,137 to 1,852.

In other news, trustees said they will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Oct. 15 to interview candidates for the open trustee seat, which was vacated when President Stephen Mitchell died in September. The deadline to apply is Friday. More information can be found on the district’s website at www.bhas.org.

In addition on Oct. 15, trustees will consider a resolution from the state to create an advisory committee to look at how the district can deal with its high debt and low student achievement. 

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege