Gowanda School To Present New Position

GOWANDA — With a larger number of students in her building than the middle or high school and rising numbers of behavior issues, Gowanda Elementary School Principal Carrie Dzierba could use some help-an idea she communicated to the school board earlier this month.

“Our current behavior specialist is returning to the classroom, and an elementary assistant principal could fill that vacuum,” Gowanda Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson explained to the board. “The social, emotional and academic needs of these students are our utmost priority and are profound. This particular model would really give Carrie the tools to be able to effectively manage and lead the building and benefit students and teachers.”

Anderson invited Dzierba to provide an overview of the current role of the district’s behavior intervention specialist, a role currently filled by Pasquale Insera. According to Dzierba, Insera has served in his role for the past four years, and she believes it is an essential position to maintain, though she is not particularly concerned with the title. “Whether it’s an assistant principal job, a dean or a behavior specialist, having that person in this building when we have such volume and such need is essential,” she stated.

The elementary school houses six grade levels (preK through fourth) and 457 students total. By comparison, the high school has four grade levels with 350 students, and the middle school has four grade levels with 335 students. Currently, both buildings share an assistant principal-a position that does not currently exist for the elementary school.

Dzierba went on to share the behaviors her students have exhibited in the five years that she has served in her role at the district:

In 2014-15, Dzierba’s first year, there were 22 behavior incident types that were reported (documented behaviors that resulted in actions) and 221 individual incidences of behavior.

In 2015-16, when Incera was hired, reported incidences dropped to 12 and there were 183 individual instances of behavior.

In 2016-17, there were 15 reported incidences, and 179 individual instances of behavior.

In 2017-18, Dzierba noted a significant increase: 22 reported incidences and 265 individual instances of behavior.

“Last year, there was a huge hike,” Dzierba noted. “The special needs population had a huge influx of students with trauma, special needs and mental illness.”

Dzierba stated that this year, as of March, there have been 13 reported incidences and 128 individual incidences of behavior. Importantly, Dzierba said that Insera is the one who initially connects with the incident, and together with Dzierba, makes decisions about actions or consequences. This school year, alone, Insera’s role involved serving on the attendance committee, conducting 10 parent meetings for attendance, making more than 20 attendance phone calls and dealing with over 210 disciplinary issues in the student support center. Additionally, Dzierba said there have been more than 27 Child Protective Services calls this year that have resulted in visits with her and/or Insera, along with a school counselor or social worker.

“Our crisis looks very different at my building than at the middle or high school,” Dzierba pointed out. “This year we’ve had 53-plus crises: crying, throwing chairs, hiding under tables, physical restraints, holds, knocking things over, violent outbursts and running away.”

Board member Mark Nephew inquired about the qualifications one should have to fill the role and serve as a building administrator. “Is the principal track in education? Is that person the most suited for the needs we have at the elementary school or should we be looking for mental health or guidance?” he inquired.

Dzierba noted that the school has a social worker and counselors. “What we don’t want to see happen is what happened before I got here,” she said. “My counselor and psychologist were doing all the discipline. When they try to do what they’re supposed to do, their position is completely demeaned because they are now a disciplinarian.”

Anderson noted the importance of filling the position. “The resources that we have, although they are finite, should be devoted to the elementary school,” he said. “We can remediate a lot quicker and better at younger ages. I’m leaning towards an assistant principal in that building because there is a difference between social work, counseling and discipline. This person would be doing what the current behavioral specialist is doing, but taking on more administrative tasks.”

Board members unanimously agreed that the role is necessary to fill once it is vacated by Insera. Anderson said the position is already built into the budget as the behavior intervention specialist position. “We do need to stress that it’s got to be the right person,” Nephew noted to Dzierba and Anderson. “If you don’t find someone in the administrative track, come back to us with a plan.”

The next meeting of the Gowanda School Board is Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. in the middle school library.