Parents and staff from Arundel Middle School said they are ready to move forward following a pair of high-profile incidents this month, but said they must continue to work toward improving school safety, instruction and communication.
About 40 parents met with school administrators Saturday morning in the school cafeteria. The meeting was the latest "Talk A Latte" session hosted monthly by principal Yolanda Clark as a way for parents and staff to ask questions and talk about concerns in an informal setting.
Patch was permitted to attend the meeting on the condition that it not be recorded and specific conversations not be shared.
The meeting featured Clark and two assistant principals, along with the school resource officer. Regional Superintendent Monique Davis and school board member Stacy Korbelak were also in attendance.
In interviews following the meeting, parents and staff characterized the meeting as cordial but frank, centering partially on the response to an incident in which a student was accused of threatening another student with a knife. Parents said they were frustrated that they did not know if the accused student would be permitted to return to school.
In addition, parents conveyed general concerns about staffing—particularly in relation to a recent incident where a teacher was caught on camera in a confrontation with a student. The teacher, Latesha Blue, was placed on leave and an investigation is ongoing.
The impacted language arts class has seen multiple teachers throughout the year, creating a general concern about the school system's ability to attract and retain the best staff, parents said.
"This was a very positive meeting, I'm glad [Clark] had it," said Tracy Mathews, whose daughter attends Arundel Middle. "We needed it. Mrs. Clark is doing a great job, but at the same time, the board of [education] and Anne Arundel County Public Schools need to give us what we need. Parents need to do what we need to do to get Mrs. Clark the support she needs."
Mathews said there is some concern on the part of parents about the school's reputation.
"People are telling me they are finding other avenues because they don't want their child to go here," she said. "That's really, really upsetting. What can we do to get back our reputation as a great middle school? We need the good parents who are active and involved, and they are the ones who are looking to get out."
Clark, for her part, told Patch she would work to improve communication with parents regarding matters of school safety.
"The next step regarding safety is to really get the parents together, so that we can really delve into those issues and come up with a strategy," Clark said. "That was the one big 'Ah-Ha' moment I had, was to find a way to mobilize them and mobilize us as a team."
Clark was unable to discuss any of the recent incidents at the school, due to ongoing investigations.
Davis, the regional superintendent who oversees the Arundel and South River clusters, said the recent incidents should not be viewed as a reflection of Arundel Middle School as a whole.
"I don't believe they are indicative of what this school is," Davis said. "They were troubling incidents, but unfortunately they happened within a short time span."
Korbelak, a member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, whose children attended Arundel Middle, said the school is generally considered high-performing, with some problems that can appear at all schools. She also said with regard to the knife incident, it's possible more incidents involving weapons may be reported nationwide due to heightened awareness following the .
"Before, maybe they wouldn't have noticed or shared it," she said. "I'm feeling like there just seems to be more incidents reported since Sandy Hook. I'm wondering if students are being a little bit more brave about reporting things. But I would say that's not unique to Arundel Middle School."
Korbelak reiterated a desire to see higher pay for teachers in the county, so that schools can attract and retain the most qualified and talented teachers. She encouraged parents to voice any concerns at upcoming board meetings.