Brawls and beatings have reached crisis levels at Greco Middle, a Temple Terrace school plagued by staff shortages and daily concerns about personal safety, according to a letter sent this week to the Hillsborough County School Board .
Physical education teacher Christie Como, 47, said she was pushed and punched on Tuesday by a 12-year-old student who held her by the hair during a classroom disruption. Temple Terrace police charged the student with assault and battery.
“Individual children are being beaten by student gangs,” Como wrote in an email to the school board, which she shared with the Tampa Bay Times Friday.
“They get kicked in the head and slam into the concrete. They pass out because they can’t defend themselves against the gang of kids attacking them. No student should be afraid of blowing themselves up in school, yet this is what happens every day.
Côme attached a video posted on YouTube of his altercation with the student. YouTube has since removed the video.
Como said senior district officials had been visiting the school for weeks. District spokeswoman Tanya Arja said steps have already been taken to increase support for Greco, including hiring additional security guard, deputy manager, success coach and office staff.
Como, however, insisted, “I am concerned for the safety of my colleagues as well as the students.”
She suggested that students’ access to their phones made matters worse. “If there were no cell phones on the students, these attacks could not be carried out and the students would not be informed of the coming fighting,” she wrote.
She attached a photo of a whiteboard that sat in Principal Wendy Rauld’s office, showing disturbing statistics on Greco. Among them: 87 fights in 31 days, at least 10 employees every day, and the phrase “third most violent school in Florida”.
Arja said that, based on the numbers, Greco was probably described as the third most violent college in the state. She said there were not 87 fights, but 87 students involved in the fights. And the 10 missing staff members include four vacant positions.
Arja said there are plans, starting next week, to provide the school with more positive emotional, social and behavioral supports “to systematically reinforce the behaviors that we expect from all students.” Already, she says, changes have been made to the cafeteria to provide more structure for lunch.
Como joined the district in 2019. She worked at Memorial Middle School in Seminole Heights before transferring to Greco. “In 20 years of teaching, I have never worked in a more chaotic place,” she writes. Those 20 years include jobs in Tennessee, Pasco County, and New York City.
Greco, on Fowler Avenue, has 889 students but is zoned for 1,773. Over 750 students opt for district-run magnet schools or independent charter schools, including Williams Middle, which has 107 students from the Greater Montreal area. Greco, and Terrace Community Middle, which has 99.
In state tests this spring, 54 percent of Greco’s students scored the lowest of five levels in reading and 61 percent were at the lowest level in math.
The district has a number of programs in place to make Greco a more academically sound school, including a STEM academy and, more recently, an International Baccalaureate program.
Andrew Olson, the director who started the IB program in 2019, has since moved to another district.
Rauld, deputy director of Greco, was promoted to director in June. “Our brand new freshman principal, which is awesome, was designed to fail,” Como wrote in his email to the school board. “I am very sorry for her.”
District and teachers’ union leaders say Greco’s problems are not unique.
“We are concerned about this situation at Greco,” said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the teachers’ union. “Greco, like many of our schools, is currently understaffed due to cutbacks and the inability to hire new people. “
Throughout the district there are shortages. Kelly Educational Staffing, which supplies the district’s substitute teachers, is only able to fill about half of all vacancies this year, the school board recently said. Among the steps taken to support Greco, Arja said the district is asking Kelly to prioritize school when she is doing homework.
District leaders also point to family stress, skills gaps among children who have spent up to a year and a half out of school due to COVID-19, and a general increase in aggressive behavior in the community. inside and outside the school walls.
“Across the state and across the country, we have seen that the pandemic has caused angst in adults and children,” Arja said. “Many of our children are not emotionally equipped to deal with their feelings and may not know how to resolve conflict in a positive way. “
Jessica Vaughn, a school board member whose constituency includes Greco, agreed that what is happening in Greco “almost seems to be symptomatic of the community at large.”
Nonetheless, Vaughn has repeatedly asked Davis to conduct a survey of frontline workers to find out what they are going through and how the district can support them. The district has not conducted a teacher climate survey since early 2020.