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3/18/2014 10:33:00 AM
School board shoots down conditionally open campus proposal
Frank McNelly discusses a proposed plan to allow only some students to leave Williams High School during lunch at a public forum March 10. Marissa Freireich/WGCN
Frank McNelly discusses a proposed plan to allow only some students to leave Williams High School during lunch at a public forum March 10. Marissa Freireich/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - All high school students will be able to leave campus for lunch next year, regardless of grades and behavior.

The Williams Unified School District Governing Board voted down a conditionally open campus proposal at its March 12 meeting.

Currently all students in all grades are allowed to leave campus for lunch.

The conditionally open campus plan would have allowed only students who had a minimum grade point average of 2.0, no suspensions and no Ds or Fs to leave campus for lunch.

Students who portrayed the school negatively during lunch could have also risked losing open campus privileges. In addition, students who had three or more tardies or unexcused absences and those who had truancy issues would have lost their lunch privileges for a period of time.

The original proposal stipulated only juniors and seniors who met the criteria would have been able to leave for lunch. However, after a public forum March 10, parents suggested that freshmen and sophomores also should have been eligible to leave for lunch if they met the criteria.

Board members Herman Nixon, Alyssa Dennison and Bud Parenteau voted against the proposal while Thomas Ross voted for it. Board member David Nenne was absent, but he told Superintendent Rachel Savage before the meeting that he approved of the conditionally open campus proposal.

Public forum

About nine people attended the March 10 community forum about the conditionally open campus proposal.

Williams High School Principal Tristan Heisley told the attendees that the governing board asked him about alternatives to the open campus policy because of problems taking place during lunch.

Heisley said 73.4 percent of high schools in the country are closed or conditionally open, and that amount has increased about 10 percent in the last five years.

Some of the issues Heisley has seen with students leaving for lunch include tardies and truancies, drug and alcohol use, car accidents, stealing and littering.

Last year with 207 students and 144 days in the school year, WHS had 2,744 tardies. That amounts to about 19 per day and 13 per student, although only about 60 students were habitually tardy.

"We have classes where this is just a continual problem," he said. "We're trying to put a stop to this. Kids do lose their focus. It's really tough on the teachers as well."

Heisley said students who are tardy often are more likely to have lower grades, are less likely to graduate and have more discipline problems.

In terms of grades, 126 students out of 190 students are on the current D and F list, which is 66 percent of the student body.

"That is a crime," Heisley said. "Every single one of them are capable of not being on that list."

As for suspensions, in the first 100 days of school, students had about 58 days of suspension, not including a long-term suspension and expulsion. Heisley said about 60 percent of those suspensions were because of events that happened during or after lunch.

Heisley said the conditionally open campus would motivate kids to improve their grades and behavior.

"I think that graduation is too far away for a lot of kids now to be that goal that they set their sights on," Heisley said. "I think that kids nowadays need a goal that's right in front of them to keep them going, and that's what this open campus is."

Sue Pearson said the younger students needed a reward system as well as the upperclassmen.

"What do you think this is going to do to the eighth graders that are looking forward to coming to high school, and what's going to motivate them to do better and be better if they don't have this extra privilege?" she said. "What's going to motivate them and what's going to be their reward for no Ds and Fs?"

Administrators said they would consider the option of letting all students qualify for open campus privileges.

Frank McNelly asked his kids what they thought of the conditionally open campus proposal. He shared the thoughts of his senior daughter at the forum. According to McNelly, she said students earn their free lunch hour by promoting to high school, the open campus teaches responsibility for students to be back in class on time and manage their money, it gives students time away to refresh themselves and have social learning time, it provides more options for students who don't like what the cafeteria is serving, the conditionally open campus proposal would require teachers to spend lunch time monitoring which students were leaving, and if kids wanted to drink, do drugs, or hang out with their boyfriends or girlfriends, they would do it anyway, regardless of the lunch policy.

Governing board meeting

During the call to the public portion of the March 12 meeting, McNelly spoke against the proposal.

He said all students should be treated the same, and high school students have to take responsibility for their actions.

"I see kids going to lunch, I see them laughing, interacting, growing up, behaving themselves," he said. "Are there some kids that don't? Of course there are. Are there always going to be kids that don't behave themselves? Yes there are. You're not going to change that."

McNelly added that proper parental discipline is necessary to address many of the problems the conditionally open campus sought to resolve.

"If you have a problem child that is habitually truant, habitually tardy, that shows disrespect for the school system, it shows disrespect for the administration, and it shows disrespect for the teachers as well as their fellow students," he said.

McNelly recommended the school set a limit for the number of tardies each student could have, and if a student exceeded that limit they would have to attend a meeting with their parents, the governing board and superintendent about the issue.

"And the student will say, 'Wow, this is serious.' I think that would be much more effective and it would get everybody much more in tune to what's going on," he said. "Gimmicks don't work. Good hard solid work is the thing that pays off, and that's what kids respond to, and that's the thing that high school preps them for."

Nixon, who is also the Williams Police Chief, said he hasn't seen a lot of problems with students during lunchtime. He said a handful of students are the ones who get in trouble on a regular basis, and the lunch policy would not change that.

"You come to high school to graduate to start being an adult," Nixon said. "You come here as a prep for life. They've got to start making decisions at that age. Not all of them are going to make these great decisions all the way through their adulthood, but this is where they've got to start making them. We are not their parents."

He added that with two governing board seats up for reelection this year, the decision should wait so it would reflect the opinions of the new board.

While Nixon said most parents he talked to were against the proposal, Ross said most of the parents he talked to were in favor of it to resolve issues at lunchtime.

Dennison said a conditionally open campus might be a meet in the middle solution.

"We wouldn't have the problems as you say we don't, or we do," she said. "And then we'd give (students) the opportunity to show us that we don't have problems."

Nixon said the board should not consider the proposal until the district finds out if it will receive a school safety grant that would allow the school to put up additional fencing. The fencing would help control students leaving for lunch.

"This will be a nightmare for the administrators here," he said. "This is going to cost money, this is going to cost time, it's going to take our teachers making them do things, you're never going to have a lunch."

Ross brought up studies that showed schools with conditionally open campuses resulted in students having better grades and reduced truancies and tardies. Nixon said those studies would not necessarily find the same results in Williams, which is a unique community.

Parenteau said he was against the policy at this time.

The board thanked the administration for the research they did to develop the proposed policy, and said it may consider a conditionally open campus again in the future.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Article comment by: former student

Don't fence in the high school. It is one on of the prettiest schools in the state. There is not any reason to "fence" the school in.

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