5 questions with Jill McColley

Parent Jill McColley learned about the chaotic school year at Ramsey Elementary through the eyes of her third-grade daughter.

How did the summer 2019 Thinking Minnesota article about Ramsey Elementary (“Tyranny of the 10 Year Olds”) affect the community?

It definitely got people talking. Parents had no idea the extent of the behavior issues; they thought it was limited to the instances they would hear about from their own child. My daughter started at Ramsey Elementary three years ago in 1st grade. And while there are always one or two students who tend to be more disruptive in the classroom, this past school year, her 3rd grade year, behavior issues were on a whole new level. There was an extreme uptick in bad behavior and a violence among the kids that wasn’t dealt with. The school has fallen apart. And the community needs to be aware of this so we can push for change. I am so thankful that article brought the challenges to light.

What made this past school year (2018-2019) so challenging?

The discipline system, or lack thereof, that the school has in place. My daughter would come home and tell me that teachers were in tears over disruptive students in the classroom that they weren’t allowed to discipline. And my daughter had a hard time focusing in class because the misbehaving students were so loud. One student was constantly interrupting during class, and the teacher just kept giving him Jolly Ranchers to make him be quiet. My daughter didn’t get it. But it’s because teachers aren’t allowed to send students out of the classroom. If a kid is being bad, the whole classroom has to evacuate and leave the disruptive kid in the classroom to have his or her little tantrum. The final straw for me was in spring 2019 when I picked my daughter up from school and heard from her about a huge fight in class. One girl was going after this boy, clawing at him, grabbing him by the throat. Teachers were trying to pull them apart, and the girl was growling and trying to wrap her legs around the boy. Students ran to one side of the room and were so scared they were crying. The parents didn’t hear one word about it. I gave the school some time to see if they would notify us about the fight, but they never did. So, I called and shared my concerns with Principal Amy Reed and wanted to know why nothing was sent out regarding the incident as it was a safety issue for the students and teachers involved. The school wouldn’t have to name names, just inform parents that an altercation occurred.

Did school leadership respond to your concerns?

Principal Reed said they were looking into the incident and that there would be consequences, probably involving the girl missing a couple of days of school. But this same girl has a history of violent behavior. Earlier in the year she choked another little girl. Parents need to know what’s going on and not rely on only hearing about it from their child. A few days after talking to Principal Reed, I emailed the Anoka-Hennepin school district superintendent and asked specifically what is being done to protect my child in the classroom? I received a generic response: “We are discussing this with our behavioral specialist, we are working on coming up with solutions.” I have a solution: Remove the behavior issue student from the classroom. My daughter would tell me that teachers have to spend so much time babysitting she isn’t getting the learning that she needs. To hear a third-grader say that shows something is wrong here.

How are teachers responding to the chaotic school culture?

Teachers thanked me for speaking up for them because they didn’t feel like they had a voice. That sent up such a red flag to me. Here I thought teachers were dropping the ball. But clearly their hands are tied, and they are limited on how they can handle misbehavior. Something needs to change.

What changes are needed to get the school back on track?

Another teacher told me there was a mass exodus from the school, and it’s because of the administration. The district and the school need to take discipline more seriously. You can’t control the homes kids come from, but you can control their behavior while they are in your care. If you teach children that respect is required, they will show respect. But the school has totally thrown that out the window. Kids are left to treat teachers and staff however they want. Teachers are not empowered, and students are not being held accountable for behavior. When a teacher has to evacuate a classroom because a child is throwing a temper tantrum, that just shows the misbehaving child that he or she has the power.

If the school doesn’t lead by example, then kids who spend six to eight hours a day at the school are going to learn nothing. They will keep acting out if they think they won’t be held accountable for their poor choices. I don’t care what color the student’s skin is, what gender the student is, if they are in the wrong and behaving in a way that is a safety concern, they need to face the consequences.

My daughter is at a different elementary school in the Anoka-Hennepin district this year, so hopefully she has a better experience than she did at Ramsey. But if this year is anything like last year, we are pulling her out of the district completely. I’m not willing to let my daughter’s education suffer because the district wants to appease whoever they are trying to appease. I don’t get it.