Berta Weathersbee is in top 10 of Georgia schools with most fights

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Last week a story named Berta Weathersbee Elementary School as one of Georgia’s worst 10 schools for fighting among students, and community members and parents are concerned.

However, school officials are confident they’ve already made progress toward fixing the school’s fighting problem and expect those results to show when the newest numbers are released.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote the story, which broke down statistics from the Georgia Department of Education on the number of fights per 100 students for every school in the state during the 2015-2016 school year. Berta Weathersbee came in seventh worst on the list with roughly 35 incidents per 100 students. The school with the most fights per 100 students was Forrest Hills Academy, a sixth-twelfth grade school in Atlanta, with 74 fights per 100 students.

According to data from the Georgia Department of Education, school fighting has increased in recent years. There were 53,462 fights in 2015-2016 among Georgia’s public high schools. Locally, no other school cracked 20 fights per 100 students.

The Troup County School Board said efforts have been in place for two years to improve behavior at Berta using Positive Behavior Intervention, but results of the PBI program would not be reflected in the 2015-2016 school year report.

“There are some school system initiatives — and it is not just to help Berta, they are system initiatives — but if we accomplish what we are hoping to it will help Berta,” said Karen Cagle, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Instruction and Professional Learning. “One of our focuses in our school improvement process this year will be that we are revamping our response to intervention process, and providing all of our schools with guidance and direction and training. What do you do with students when you identify a student who needs additional help academically or behaviorally?”

Berta Weathersbee Elementary School had 372 students during the 2015-2016 school year, and according to Georgia Department of Education student record data, the school had 33 incidents of bullying, two incidents of battery, 132 fights and 32 incidents involving threats or intimidation over the course of the year.

School officials believe those numbers may look significantly better next year because of improvements in behavior at the school under PBIS. There were only seven bullying referrals for the 2016-2017 school year, defiance and noncompliance referrals reduced by half from last year and 75 percent of students had one or fewer referrals. Within the last year, the school system has also added several positions to encourage positive growth in local schools, such as a coordinator for mental health for the school system and support staff for Berta Weathersbee.

“One thing that we did was we added some positions over at Berta to help with the student population there, but this year you’ll see that we have a new principal, a new instructional specialist as well, but we are also doing some things as far as pride is concerned — especially cleaning up the building, renovation on the inside,” Troup County Board of Education Director of Public Relations Yolanda Stephen said. “We are just seriously taking a hard look to see what we can do, and we are calling it, ‘We’re backing Berta.’ This isn’t a new plan for us, this is something we have been putting in place, and we hope to see some forward movement in the future.”

The school board hopes that those improvements will encourage school pride and by extension encourage better behavior.

“We are doing a lot of physical work there, and how does that fit in — well it fits into culture,” Cagle said. “You want all of the schools to be beautiful and clean and them to have great functionality.”

When students return to Berta Weathersbee this fall, they can expect to see upgrades to the school like new classroom furniture, fresh paint on the walls and fresh flooring in the gym. The three projects are scheduled to be voted on at the Thursday board meeting and are expected to cost a total of $256,589, which will be funded through Education SPLOST funds.

Teacher training will remain a major component of how Troup County Schools handle behavior problems though, with officials noting that both academic and behavior problems can often be resolved in both the short and long-term by properly trained teachers.

“If you have a class of 20 something students, some catch on really quick,” Cagle said.

“Some you think, ‘Okay, I need to re-explain that,’ but once you do they catch on. Some you re-explain and they still don’t catch on, so you realize, ‘I have to try something different.’ Response to intervention is a formal process by which a teacher says, ‘I need to meet with the team, and I need to develop some formal strategies to help meet the needs of this kid.’ We do that academically, and we do that behaviorally, so as a system we are providing more training to everybody and more clear guidance.”

The school has also recently reintroduced its afterschool program and is currently holding a summer camp. Officials hope that both of these programs will serve to encourage school pride and make the school somewhere that the students want to be.