Staff, students commit to a better Totem School
August 28, 2008 · Updated 5:02 PM
MARYSVILLE Ignoring threats of suspensions or other consequences, on Feb. 5 about 150 to 200 Totem Middle School students walked out of their building and gathered on the school's front lawn.
They were there, they said, to protest an alleged lack of discipline at the school, claiming that fighting and the open use of drugs and alcohol at Totem are common.
On April 24, the entire Totem student population and many members of its staff gathered in the school's gymnasium for what officials called a "commitment assembly."
Led by Principal Judy Albertson, staff and students alike read statements about what they are willing to do make Totem a better school.
"It takes everyone seated in this room to make a really great school," Albertson said.
Shortly after the walkout, many of the students involved were required to take part in focus or discussion groups about supposed problems at Totem. Albertson said three main issues emerged from those sessions: discipline, bullying and drama, drama between students and between students and staff.
Some of the promises students made, read by Albertson: greet everyone, exercise control in class, report any problems witnessed, make no rude comments and don't talk back to teachers.
One of two students to speak during the assembly, Chelsea Harbo talked about cutting down on bullying and harassment between students.
Chelsea was one of the students who took part in the February walkout. At the time, she was not shy in telling The Globe that many students blamed Albertson for the school's supposed problems.
"We're supposed to respect her, but we might respect her more if she started enforcing the rules," Chelsea said at the time. "We never see her expect when we're in trouble."
During last week's assembly, Albertson and her two assistant principals directly addressed that last complaint, promising, among other things, to be more visible and available throughout the school.
At one point during the assembly, Albertson told a long story seemingly about how people shouldn't need to experience disaster to understand and realize what they truly are capable of doing.
"Let's not make fear and gossip and bullying the things we should focus on at Totem Middle School," Albertson said.
"Things have quieted down a lot," Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller told The Globe last week regarding problems, or the perception of problems, at Totem.
She said the number of parental phone calls concerning Totem reaching the district have dropped dramatically, with some parents calling to express gratitude about changes at the school.
Miller further talked about a substitute teacher who, in the past, had complained about class disruptions and other problems at Totem, but now was reporting improvements in student behavior at the school.
"What's changed at the school is that students have become a lot more proactive in their behavior," Albertson said following the school assembly.
Both Miller and Albertson also talked about weekly breakfasts the latter now holds at the school with students. Miller said teachers and staffers are continuing to receive and experience additional training and discussions focusing on discipline. She added a tip line students may call to anonymously to report problems has been well advertised.
"The action on that tip line has picked up a bit," Miller said.
The head of Totem's PTSA could not be reached for comment. A school board spokesperson did not return a request for comment for this article. The board recently undertook a review of the district's discipline matrix.
Inconsistent enforcement of that code was a problem cited by students during the walkout and afterwards.