District puts in place new anti-bullying program

B y Derek Liebig

Officials at the Whitehall Central School District have unveiled a program they hope will prevent bullying.

Last week, the district formally introduced the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program at the high school. The program, which is touted as the most well known bullying prevention program, seeks to reduce existing bullying while preventing the development of new problems.

The elementary school adopted the program several weeks ago and the high school followed suit last week during anti-bullying week at the school.

“The Olweus program makes it very clear what bullying is, what it looks like and its forms,” Superintendent Elizabeth Legault said.

The Olweus system is a holistic program that works at four different levels: schoolwide, classroom, individual and community,

“Olweus is a K through 12 perspective and experience here at Whitehall, not just a reactionary initiative,” Topher Montville, middle school guidance counselor said. “It will create layers of support for the students, their families and those that work with youth.”

He said the program addresses the problem at the core of most bullying incidents, peer attention and “socio-cultural apathy,” and encourages collaboration between students, faculty and the community to demonstrate appropriate behavior and hold everyone involved to a higher level.

“From my perspective, both as a guidance counselor and educator who worked in the field of prevention education before working here at Whitehall, Olweus will be effective here because there is 30 years of evidence that when implemented with administrative, staff, student and community support, the program can reduce the effects of bullying and similar anti-social behavior,” Montville said.

Legault said the staff, led by the school’s guidance counselors, has been very enthusiastic in its implementation and support for the program.

She said in order for students to achieve their academic potential, the district needs to address bullying and other disciplinary issues.

A number of parents have been critical of the district for what they perceive as inaction on the part of administrators when it comes to bullying. At a Board of Education meeting last November, several parents said their students were bullied and nothing was done to address the matter.

According to the most recent Violent and Disruptive Incident Report data, the district had 86 disciplinary incidents during the 2011-12 school year, more than double the incidents neighboring Granville had.

Local law enforcement authorities have also been investigating a “sexting” scandal in which dozens of teenagers shared sexually explicit photos. Although police have said the images were not shared on the Whitehall campus, many of those involved were students at Whitehall High School.

Legault, who assumed the duties of superintendent on Dec. 1, has said implementation of the Olweus program is one step the district is taking to address those problems.

The district will also hire three behavioral specialists—one at the elementary school and two at the high school—to work with students who has behavior problems.

The district had previously planned to hire an assistant principal who would handle discipline, but Legault believes the behavioral specialists will be more effective.
The specialists, who will work with students to keep them in school, will be tried on a pilot basis and will be paid approximately $28,000 a year.

Nearly a dozen candidates have applied for the job and it’s expected the district will have the program in place by next month.

“We have to raise the expectations we have for ourselves and how we deal with others.” Legault said.

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