MHS Teacher Expresses Concerns to Board of Ed

By Terry Rogers

On Monday, August 24, Gretchen Pikus, a teacher at Milford High School, spoke to the Milford School District Board of Education at their regular monthly meeting. Ms. Pikus expressed concerns and offered suggestions for ways the district could improve over the next school year.

“Milford High School has suffered some instability lately,” Ms. Pikus said. “I will admit that I was digging deep to get myself to go to school each day. However, I believe it is our responsibility as teachers to bring a positive attitude each day which is what brings me here tonight. I think it is important to remember that Milford High School students have diverse needs that are much different than those at other grade levels.” Ms. Pikus said that, although it was difficult to talk about things like outbursts, fights and conflict, it is critical to realize that students who have multiple incidents are not bad children and that a teacher has not failed if they are unable to reach that student.

Ms. Pikus suggested that the board consider an Intensive Learning Center (ILC) as a way to place students who appear to have difficulty adapting to a regular classroom setting and who may demonstrate this difficulty through anger or outbursts that disrupt other students. Although there is an ILC for students at the Middle School level, there is not one for High School students within the Milford School District. Ms. Pikus said that it would allow the school to determine a way to meet the student’s needs.

“I don’t mean to rub salt in the wounds, but it needs to be said,” Ms. Pikus said. “If there was a physical altercation last year, it was a comfort to know that Dr. Carter, Mr. Gibson or Mr. Rigby were there who could literally tackle an unruly or combative student. Last year, I experienced panic when all of those faculty members were absent and I found myself in a physical altercation among students.” Ms. Pikus said that there was a time when serious offenses by students came before the board for punishment. She said that they now go before a review board at the school level. Ms. Pikus suggested that the district consider reinstating board hearings so that board members are aware of the changing climate in the life of educators and to provide a level of transparency to students.

Ms. Pikus also said that two failed referendums indicated that there needed to be changes in the district. She felt that the voters indicated that the parents, the community and the economy were demanding change.

“The elephant in the room has become a herd of elephants,” Ms. Pikus said. “It’s not enough to change the players and it is irresponsible to think it will work itself out.” Ms. Pikus said that she had run into a mentor and former educator, Dan McGinniss, at an event in town the week before. She said that after talking with Mr. McGinniss, she realized that Milford had a treasure trove of experience in the form of retirees who may be able to provide significant insight into how the district could move forward in a positive way.

Ms. Pikus suggested that the board appoint an Education Task Force in conjunction with City Council and invite former educators like Mr. McGinniss, Fred Duffy and other retired educators to participate. Ms. Pikus said that Buccaneer Tomorrow was a good start, but it was not enough. She said that the district should not ignore the large majority of voters who were against funding schools in the district.

Prior to Ms. Pikus’ presentation, Renate Wiley, School Board President, informed those in attendance that when the public spoke to the board, they were not permitted to respond and that any suggestions would be discussed among them or added to an agenda for another meeting. When Ms. Pikus finished, board member, Yvette Dennehy, confirmed that Ms. Pikus was suggesting an ILC, student hearings before the board and appointment of an Education Task Force.

The school board also approved dates for the upcoming school year, choosing the third Monday of each month rather than the first in order to avoid conflict with City Council meetings. The dates were approved unanimously. In addition, the board approved the ballot for the upcoming referendum on October 6, 2015. The ballot will include an explanation of what the district intends to use the increased revenue for in order to better inform the public.

Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer, reported that Milford is owed $453,404 in delinquent taxes over the past five years. When asked who was responsible for collecting the taxes, Ms. Croce said that the county had responsibility for all tax collection. The board expressed concern about the amount owed, especially in light of their current financial issues.

Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superintendent, pointed out that two administrators had resigned in one week. Dr. Sylvia Henderson, Director of Elementary Education, and Travis Moorman, Director of Secondary Education. Dr. Henderson will be replaced by Dr. Bridget Amory who served as Assistant Principal at Morris Early Childhood Center several years ago. Mr. Moorman will be replaced by Dr. Kevin Dickerson.

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