Antioch School District investigation confirms problems at Black Diamond Middle School
By John Crowder
Following numerous complaints about violence, profanity, disrespect, and threatening behavior instigated by a group of out-of-control students at Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) over the past few months, Antioch Superintendent of Education Dr. Don Gill contacted Dr. John Bernard, a longtime educator and consultant, and asked him to conduct a thorough investigation of the troubled school. Bernard presented a report on his findings at the February 26th meeting of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees.
During his wide-ranging presentation, Bernard essentially confirmed the complaints the Board has been hearing during the public comments section of their meetings over the last few months, complaints that had come from both parents of students at the school and school staff…and added a few additional problem areas that had not previously been identified during the public outcry. Bernard also provided recommendations to the Board regarding actions that could be taken to alleviate the problems.
Bernard prefaced his remarks by outlining the process he had undertaken to conduct his investigation. He noted that there may be other areas of concern, but the ones that he spoke to were those that he had been able to see firsthand, or had discussed with concerned parties at the school. He then went on to describe problems with the physical condition of the school, stating that it was in need of painting and a “thorough cleaning.” He also said that the procedures under which the custodial staff were operating were inadequate.
Student behavior was a particular area of concern, according to Bernard. He confirmed that there were “between fifteen and fifty students who continually challenge adult authority.” Bernard had several recommendations for dealing with this issue, which appeared to be the catalyst for the complaints the Board had been receiving. He called for the identification of these students, and their removal from the rest of the student body.
“They should start school at a different time, have lunch at a different time,” he said.
He also called for the establishment of a school-wide discipline policy. “That means consistency across the board,” he stated.
Bernard also addressed the administration at the school.
“Everything needs to change,” he said, “some classes have a disproportionate number of disruptive students.”
He noted that many policies were inconsistent, including those relating to dress, cell phones, disrespect, and threatening behavior. He recommended the continuing assignment of site support personnel and assistant vice-principals, but noted that additional developmental training should take place for administrative staff.
In addressing the situation with regard to the teaching staff, Bernard noted that there were fourteen teachers who were brand new to BDMS this year. He recommended that teachers be provided with training on classroom management and working with unmotivated students. Bernard also found that there was a greater than average level of absenteeism among the teaching staff at this site, which meant an increase in substitute teachers, who often “had no lesson plan available.”
Bernard also spoke about several other areas in which he found problems, including a lack of communication with parents, site safety, on-campus suspension, tardiness, uniforms, and cafeteria issues. He concluded by urging the Board to implement needed recommendations, monitor their effectiveness, and conduct another review within the next four to five months.
Following the presentation made by Bernard, the AUSD Superintendent, Gill, again addressed the board. “Some of these recommendations Bernard mentioned are already in place,” he said. He went on to inform the Board that up to two positions for “opportunity school” teachers had been posted and applicants were already available for interview.
In other news, two speakers addressed the recent petition by teachers from Dozier Libbey Medical High School to convert the school to a charter school. Both expressed concern about the move, which teachers at the school made because of what they characterized as philosophical differences with AUSD with respect to their original mission. Almost all (88%) of the teachers at the school signed the petition, and the Board must now respond with a hearing on the matter within a month.