Adam Fine, East Hampton High School’s principal, began Tuesday night’s meeting of the East Hampton School Board with a summary of the findings of a recent school-wide survey examining issues such as security, diversity, and support. The survey, an anonymous 20-minute questionnaire, was conceived of by a committee of students, parents, faculty, and clergy following the suicide of David H. Hernandez, a junior at the school.
The National School Climate Center, a New York City-based organization that helps schools establish an environment of emotional well-being, administered the survey, which cost the district $3,000. The school made it available to students, parents, and faculty members during February and early March.
Of the high school’s more than 900 students, 732, or nearly 81 percent, completed the survey. Among 125 faculty and staff members, 113 responded. Of 920 eligible households with parents, 252 finished the survey.
Among the lowest rankings, the results indicate that the school needs to increase students’ sense of socio-emotional security. Specifically, several students said they had been bullied, teased, or harassed by classmates, and nearly 400 indicated they had witnessed such peer-to-peer abuse more than once.
“It’s not bad, but it’s not great,” Mr. Fine had remarked a while ago, noting that such a climate was, unfortunately, typical of many high schools. “Still, it’s definitely an area in need of improvement.”
Among the survey’s high points, safety and norms rated the highest, meaning that students believe there is plenty of adult support on the premises and they would have no hesitation in seeking it out. “The biggest fear in schools is that kids are fearful of going to adults,” said Mr. Fine.
“Rather than have a program that drops in and disappears, this is making meaningful and lasting change in a high school,” he said. The principal plans to identify vulnerable groups and prioritize areas for action come September, and then to track improvement or downturn.
Taken together, Mr. Fine viewed the findings as evidence of the school’s “great foundation.”
“I just wish it got here earlier,” he said. “We were a school in need and we needed the help.”
Following his presentation, board members discussed whether to implement a similar survey at East Hampton Middle School, with opinions mixed and no action taken.
In other business, the board accepted the resignation of Philip Garypie, a mechanic, effective June 10. It also accepted the resignation of Joel Freedman, interim head school bus driver, effective July 8. Joseph Lipani was appointed as auto mechanic and interim supervisor for a probationary period of 26 weeks, beginning July 8. He will be paid an annual salary of $60,000 as auto mechanic and $50,000 as interim supervisor.
Schools Superintendent Richard Burns mentioned the scrutiny the district’s transportation department has been under in recent months and said he was hopeful the department would be operated in a fair and honest manner with Mr. Lipani at the helm. Currently, public disciplinary hearings are under way for two suspended bus drivers, though, said Mr. Burns, they came to a “screeching halt” about six weeks ago. “Our counsel has not heard back from their counsel,” he said, despite repeated inquiries. “We’re patiently awaiting a response.”
Jackie Lowey, a board member, asked that the district’s Web site be updated so that basic information was more readily accessible. And, following the death last weekend of Anna Mirabai Lytton, the Springs School eighth grader killed by a car as she was riding her bicycle, Ms. Lowey urged that the issue of pedestrian and bike safety be a topic of future discussion. “It’s a conversation our district should be involved in,” she said, adding that children in a rural community should expect to be able to ride their bikes to school. “How can we work together to make this a safer community for our kids?”
The meeting, which had begun on a somber note with a moment of silence for Anna, ended with a standing ovation for three departing board members, George Aman, Lauren Dempsey, and Alison Anderson. Ms. Dempsey stood to deliver some departing remarks, and audience members thanked the trio for their years of service. Mr. Burns presented Ms. Dempsey and Ms. Anderson with bouquets of flowers. Dr. Aman, the board president, received a set of “special tennis balls, to help give you that extra edge.”
“It’s been a pleasure working with all of you,” concluded Mr. Burns. “The new board is going to come into a really good, fertile environment, ready to move ahead.”
Wendy Geehreng, J.P. Foster, and Richard Wilson, who were elected to the board last month, will begin their three-year terms at the next meeting on July 2.