Two weeks after a student incident led to social media threats directed at Platteville High School, PHS students have determined three areas they think the high school needs improvement:
• Cultural awareness.
• Building positive relationships.
• Increasing school spirit and pride.
The rest of the school year at PHS will feature efforts to improve the high school in those three areas.
Those areas were determined following a survey of PHS students Nov. 6, which followed online threats after a student incident earlier that week. PHS teachers will get their first chance together to consider those areas in PHS’ next early release day Dec. 4.
Those three areas were determined at the end of a week and a half that PHS principal Tim Engh called “difficult because it takes so much positive to overcome the negative — it’s not our swimmers going to state, the fall play going to state, FFA going to the national convention and our kids winning soil [judging] contests. There are so many things positive going on here.”
A letter Engh sent to PHS parents Thursday listed “a couple instances of racially charged harassment between two specific groups of students. … Administration followed the PHS code of conflict, provided discipline and also worked in conjunction with the police to further follow up on the incidents.”
On Monday, Engh described the incident as “kind of two groups of kids watching each other, and somebody was upset with something somebody said. And that was in the morning, and in the afternoon it went to social media and then it went from there.”
By Nov. 5, social media posts and online polls that “continued the negative comments and some threats” had escalated to “a social media post which mentioned a weapon,” though the post was not from a PHS student. “The police followed up on the threat and deemed it not to be a serious threat,” wrote Engh.
Engh said his letter “must have answered a lot of questions. I’ve maybe received three phone calls from parents; I’ve not received any calls from anyone outside the school circle.”
Since the incident and threats, Engh said PHS teachers have taken the initiative to be more visible in hallways and interacting with students outside classrooms.
Engh said he was “very proud of the way our teachers have responded to this. They’ve been asked to take on a different role than I’m sure they trained to do. They’re working with students on how to process this, and not just this, but life in general. Students and teachers are experiencing each other kind of on a different level, and that’s very positive.”
Engh said he had also gotten expressions of support and offers of assistance from UW–Platteville, the University of Dubuque and area churches.
Engh said professionals from UWP, UD and possibly UW–Madison will be brought in Dec. 4 to, for starters, “address labels” and the use of the N word.
Engh also wants to institute a version of the national Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program, in which “teachers recognize students for doing the right thing on a regular basis.” Students recognized by teachers will be mailed postcards for weekly raffles for prizes.
A TV that hasn’t been used is being installed in the PHS comments as a “positive message board” with videos and graphics of PHS activities, part of Engh’s goal to “start promoting the good stuff at the high school.”
Engh said teachers and staff will also work “figuring out which kids don’t have a connection with a teacher and working to build that relationship — those students who don’t have that go-to teacher are kids that might find themselves in trouble.”
The results from the survey Nov. 6 were released to students Nov. 10. Students then were asked to “pick out what stuck most with them,” refining those to “a couple focus points to work on with how they’d move forward,” said Engh.
“I though they were quite interesting,” said Engh. “It was an opportunity for students to show what they think and they feel. The survey results are one of many tools we can use — it gives me a general idea of what students think.”
The survey answer that Engh called “kind of disappointing” was that 55 percent of students felt safe reporting dangerous behaviors, with 31 percent answering “sometimes” and 13 percent “no.”
“That puts me at a disadvantage,” he said.
Engh does not believe PHS has widespread discipline problems.
“The kids who are referred to the office represent a very small percentage of our student population,” said Engh. “As an administrator, we do the best we can to keep this place safe and make it a safe place for learning.
“Our issue that we had was broadcast to the state, and that did not make Platteville High School look very good. But we’ve been able to talk to our students a lot more in depth, and we’re taking proactive measures that will result in making Platteville High School the best place it can be. In the long run it may be a lot more positive.”