School Board Focuses on Cyber Bullying, Communication
The Garden City Board of Education listened to a presentation on cyber bullying and a report on the results of a recent public relations survey before the superintendent’s budget summary presentation and public hearing at the May 10th work session.
The first PowerPoint presentation was a report by the district’s cyber bullying committee, which is co-chaired by Dr. Fino M. Celano, assistant superintendent for personnel, and Dr. Rita Melikian, the district’s director of technology.
The term “Cyber bullying” refers to “the willful and repeated harm of a person inflicted through electronic devices.” Unlike other forms of bullying, cyber bullying is constant, not allowing victims to get any respite. Students can utilize various forms of electronic media, including texting, social networking sites, Xbox Live, cell phones and Web sites such as YouTube. This relentless, mean pursuit can be so severe that victims will consider suicide, cases of which have recently made national headlines.
“We in Garden City really want to take a proactive approach to this problem,” Dr. Celano said. “We want to get a handle on the problem, we would like to come up with solutions to the problem, before this reaches epidemic proportions or before a tragedy occurs to one of our children here.”
The district is taking a three-pronged approach to the issue, which involves staff, parent and student education. Staff members have attended various cyber bullying education programs. Several programs have been made available to parents. There is a long list of cyber bullying programs currently being offered to students at all grade levels in the district. Peer presentations are being prepared by a special Cyber Bullying Peer Committee comprised of students who will perform skits and short scenarios to bring more awareness to the issue.
High School Principal Nanine Cuttitta said there have been five to eight issues in the past two years which required disciplinary action. If administrators learn of any incident, no matter how minor, they speak to the student involved and his or her parents. An official warning in writing is sent home alerting the family that if the incident is repeated or behavior continues, it will be noted in the student’s permanent record.
“I am happy to say, in almost all of the times, that works,” she said. In her three years as principal, she estimates that 40 letters have been sent home. There have been two times when the letter was sent home but a subsequent incident occurred.
Catherine Knight, the district’s coordinator of public information, gave the second presentation of the evening on the results of a free, anonymous communications survey given by the National School Public Relations Association. The 37-question survey helped Garden City learn how best to communicate with residents. Garden City was only one of two school districts in New York to participate; Oswego was the other district. A total of 51 districts participated nationally.
The district electronically delivered 3,262 surveys; 451 were completed and 42 were incomplete but included for an approximate 15 percent return rate. The highest number of respondents had children clustered in grades 6 through 12.
Questions were asked about the school the oldest child is attending. A total of 84 percent of survey participants ranked the district and child’s school as excellent or above average and 90 percent could find the information they were seeking. Most people who responded want updates on the child’s progress. Those who submitted comments in the open response section suggested the following improvements: curriculum, differentiation and increased Web site use. E-mail was the most preferred method of receiving communication from the district.
“The message to us is you have lots of information to give, but you have to know your audience, and you have to know what the audience wants,” Dr. Feirsen said.
The school board learned from Dr. Melikian that only 20 percent of parents have parent portal accounts. School board trustee Angela Heineman suggested that perhaps usage would increase if the district stopped sending home paper versions of progress reports and other information.