Reading, MA — A group of students and parents gathered at the School Committee meeting on April 9 to attempt to persuade the committee to bring back Adam Bakr as the principal at Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) for the 2018-2019 school year. Bakr submitted his resignation in December, effective at the end of the school year. Superintendent of Schools John Doherty indicated at the March 19 School Committee meeting that there may be a need to appoint an interim principal due to the late timing of a new search process. The final candidate from the previous search declined the position.
Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, RMHS student Charles Wang produced a letter he had written to the student body and a petition asking for Bakr’s return which has been signed by over 660 students and parents. Both were shared with the committee. Wang credited Bakr’s leadership as one of the reasons he had succeeded in high school. He also related that he believes that having an interim principal will result in a “lost year” for students. RMHS Senior Abigail Bacci stated, “The instability [at RMHS] as seen in the high rate of principal turnover greatly affects the social-emotional well-being of the students. With the position of principal changing hands every few years, stability is lost, creating a vulnerable and unstable school environment.” Bacci also expressed concern that the student petition Wang shared was met with “opposition from some teachers without clear explanations.”
Prior to the public comment, School Committee chair Chuck Robinson, while impressed by the students who spoke, warned the group that there could be no discussion of the character of an employee, good or bad, in a public meeting. He did indicate that these items could be discussed with the committee in executive session. Robinson also reminded the group that the superintendent was responsible for personnel matters. Doherty did not respond during the public comment portion of the meeting but did indicate during his report that a new high school principal search was underway with 17 applications and that he expected the search to be finalized by early May. No further action was taken by the committee.
Erica McNamara from the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse reported on Part Two of the results of the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS is administered biennially to middle and high school students in Reading and seeks to determine what are the levels of certain identified behaviors amongst the students of the community. Part One featuring substance use and attitudes was shared with the committee in July. This portion of the survey dealt with behaviors such as texting while driving, fighting, weapons use, bullying, and sexual activity.
The survey has an 80 percent response rate at the high school level and an 81 percent response rate at the middle school level. Twenty-one percent of high school students reported that they texted or emailed while driving in the last 30days and 17 percent reported that they rode in a vehicle with a person who had been drinking during that same time period. Seventeen percent reported that they had been bullied electronically while one percent fewer reported being bullied at school. Six percent reported that that did not go to school at least once in the last 30 days because they did not feel safe. McNamara noted that the rate of students indicating that they had been bullied school has dropped eleven percent since 2011. Fourteen percent of the students reported getting into a physical fight over the last 12 months, six percent while at school while four percent of high school students reported that they were threatened by or hurt with a weapon while at school.
Twenty-four percent of the high school students reported that they have had sexual intercourse, the lowest reported percentage since the survey started in 2005. Twenty-four percent of those reported that they were impaired by drugs or alcohol prior to their last sexual intercourse. Nine percent of the students reported that they have been forced to have sexual intercourse.
Fourteen percent of high school students reported that they were not physically active for at least 60 minutes in the previous week while 48 percent reported playing video or computer games or using a computer for non-school related activities for more three hours on an average school day. Sixteen percent said that they had suffered a concussion from playing a sport. Nine percent stated that in the last month they had fasted for 24 hours or more to control weight, while five percent reported using diet pills or powders and four percent reported purging for the same purpose.
The shorter middle school survey reported that 23 percent of middle school students never or rarely wear a helmet while biking and one percent never rarely wear a seatbelt while riding in a car. Sixteen percent of middle school students reported riding in a car driven by someone who had been drinking.
Sixteen percent of middle school students reported being bullied electronically, while 31 percent reported being bullied in school. Thirty percent have been in a physical fight. Four percent of Reading’s middle school students report that they have had sexual intercourse. Thirty-six percent have played a video game or used a computer for more than three hours per day for non-school related activities. Nine percent of middle school students reported that in the last 30 days they have used fasting to control weight, five percent used diet pills and five percent have purged for the same purposes.
The School Committee voted 5-0 to recommend to Town Meeting warrant article thirteen which would allow the district to enter into contracts up to six years for digital curriculum. Doherty reported that this would allow the district greater buying power and more advantageous pricing. The committee also voted 5-0 to set the last day of school on June 20.
The School Committee adjourned at 9:20 pm.