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Today at 5:45 at Perth Amboy’s City Hall Circle, parents, students, and staff members from the district will hold a “peaceful protest” to raise awareness of the “dumpster fire” (according to a teacher) that is Sam Shull Middle School. This morning, high school students staged a walk-out because “we must stand with each other…for the safety of our future as well as teachers and families who attend this district and for a change of superintendent. The purpose of this isn’t to skip class, it’s a call for action.”
Case in point: last week an 11-year-old boy stabbed another student, Smailyn Jimenez, twice in the abdomen with a kitchen knife. One of the veins leading to Smailyn’s heart was damaged. He had surgery and is recuperating in the ICU.
According to teachers and parents, this particular act of violence is a symptom of systemic issues that arise due to lack of leadership, desultory discipline, and flagging morale.. One consequence is teachers are resigning in droves. According to the February 9th Perth Amboy Board of Education meeting agenda, 25 teachers resigned (not for reasons of retirement). The October agenda lists 19 resignations and another 9 in November. (There was no meeting in December.)
This staff exodus burdens remaining teachers and their students, not just at Shull but at the high school as well. One source reports that a high school social studies teacher has been teaching a Spanish class because the district has been unable to attract qualified candidates; for this particular posting, one person applied in September but was deemed unsuitable. At Shull, supervisors are covering classes that lack teachers, regardless of certification.
In response to criticism and major media coverage of the attack on Smailyn, the Board of Education and the City of Perth Amboy just put out a joint press release that says, in part, that anyone claiming leaders don’t value “the safety and security of our entire community” is being “disingenuous and self-serving.”
It is disheartening that certain individuals have taken it upon themselves to make unfounded assertions about this incident and assumptions about the children of this community. This is a disservice to our students and their excellent teachers and educators, who have dedicated their lives to instructing and caring for our young people.
But Pat Paradiso, president of the local teachers union, Perth Amboy Federation-AFT, told NJ Education Report, “this is what they always say” when there is criticism of the district, particularly regarding the safety of students and teachers. “Anything that doesn’t present the district in a perfect light is pushed under the carpet. If you won’t look honestly at problems you can’t fix them.” She also noted that school board members were not consulted about the content of the press release and that district superintendent David Roman has not appeared at Shull Middle School at any time since the incident.
Two weeks ago the union held a meeting at Shull Middle School in preparation for a school climate survey. There, staff members spoke about students “engaging in disruptive and violent activities” and said, “when you don’t have consequences, you have this mess.” Another said, “if you’re short-staffed [you don’t have people to prevent students from] knocking each other out, kicking the door, slapping the windows.” There was consensus that students bring weapons into school every day.
On the union’s Facebook page, one teacher wrote, “the entire administration fears everything else but fixing.. teacher don’t break up fights [because] they are told to call security and wait…bullying is out of control…They have no idea how to fix anything. I see why in June half of Perth Amboy had graduation signs from Edison, Sayreville, and Woodbridge and [other nearby] high schools.