The recent article describing the canceling of senior classes on June 13 has many disturbing ramifications.
Initially I would say that the administration won a Pyrrhic victory over a minority of students apparently bent on disruption. The first casualty was well described by one student, a member of the Principal's Student Advisory Committee, who was left stunned by the administration's deceit. The meetings with parents and teachers, the disciplinary proposals, the letters home - all became in the end, the trappings of hypocrisy to mask a decision "the administrators had already decided on." In full view of some of its best students, the principal sacrificed integrity for "administrative convenience." That transient comfort has cost the administration the trust of the large majority of students whose good will is a major element in the functioning of the school. In the light of this decision, what might be the results of a poll asking the incoming senior class two questions: Do you trust the present administrators to work with you to resolve school problems? Would you volunteer to serve on a committee with these administrators?
According to the article, Mr. Lewis said he was "pleased" and "proud" that no seniors were "sanctioned" for misbehavior. Student Adwait Parker perhaps was more insightful when he termed the action a "deceitful, dishonest move," one that "will taint the relationship between the students and the administration for years to come." Pace Mr. Lewis, but I don't see much there to engender either pleasure or pride.
Beyond its effects on the student body, the decision to cancel classes raises questions for the entire community regarding the administration of the high school. Mr. Lewis is quoted as saying that last spring a "broad group of students from all grade levels" caused so much harm that several students required medical treatment, animals were abused, and classes disrupted. The situation became so bad the Port Washington Police had to be called. He admits that, "the school was not in control." He then describes this massive failure of school officials as, "not a good day."
I suggest that when a school reaches a condition in which students are sickened, animals abused, and local police have to be called, it is something more than a bad day. It is an indication that the administration and staff have lost control of the school and have behaved in a manner that only encourages repetitions of this behavior. With a candor unusual for any official, school or otherwise, Mr. Lewis admits that under his leadership the school has, under certain circumstances, no control over its students. He calls the miscreants a "broad group of students." Does he mean a majority or near majority of the student body? I think not. As a parent of Schreiber graduates I have always been impressed by the Schreiber students. Moreover, drawing on 40 years of teaching experience in suburban high schools, I would guess that a small minority of students form the core of the problem group. When that group finds its actions do not result in appropriate consequences, they may not only repeat and expand their misconduct, but also encourage others to join in. If Mr. Lewis implies that it is a majority of Schreiber students who are to blame, then we as a community face a crisis, which if left unchecked will have consequences not difficult to imagine.
If, however, the high school faces a problem with a minority of students (as I suspect), the community still faces a problem, and in his actions Mr. Lewis has described an administration lacking in will, deficient in planning, deceitful in action, and utterly unaware of the unintended consequences of their actions. Mr. Lewis describes his decision to cancel classes as a "strong action." Canceling classes is "serious" action but it is certainly not "strong." Instead, it is a public admission of weakness. I suspect that the majority of students agreed with letter-writers Diakow, Bushnell and Parker in seeing the decision as transparent hypocrisy. The minority, the would-be troublemakers, will see the canceling of classes as a victory. If the mere threat of disruption caused a frightened administration to cancel classes in the interest of safety and good order, then what must future classes do to surpass last year's disruption? Anyone who has worked with youngsters can appreciate the implicit challenge those seniors have laid down for their successors. Thus, the weakness displayed by the Schreiber administration will only encourage further pre-holiday misbehavior. As most parents know, predicting adolescent behavior is difficult, but I suspect that unless the Schreiber administration strengthens its response to student misconduct, it may look forward to canceling classes the day before spring vacation, Thanksgiving break, and/or Christmas vacation. The education of the majority of students may suffer, but peace will reign in the administrative offices.
At the present time the high school has a leadership cadre of one principal, several assistant principals and scores of teachers, more than enough to ensure that classes can be held in an atmosphere of order and safety. Canceling classes in the face of potential disruption should not be necessary. Already the police have been called, "to provide assistance" and restore control in the high school. It is not inconceivable that if administrators do not exercise the leadership they have been hired to provide, our next assistant principal may wear a blue uniform.
Our new board of education faces many problems as it begins its term: a contingency budget, a growing dissatisfaction with the schools' disappointing test scores, and more. These problems will only be exacerbated if the community perceives the high school, in the principal's words, as "out of control." Port Washington residents take great pride in the accomplishments of their students, from science awards to arts achievements. But no one can be proud of a school that must cancel classes to maintain order, betray the trust of some of its best and brightest, and sacrifice the interests of the many for the convenience of the few.
As the board has hired these administrators, it is up to them to make clear that it is in the job definition of the administration to assure good order and an environment appropriate to learning every single day of the school year. And, if they cannot, then in the interest of the students whom they are supposed to serve, they should step aside.
The school situation demands leadership and it must come from the top. June 13 may well represent a watershed day in the history of our schools. If the situation is as the high school principal has described it - and I have no reason to question his evaluation - then the board and the administration must act with vigor to protect the educational rights of the large majority of our students against a malicious minority. Inaction cannot be an option.
Charles P. Murphy