Third-party review, new OCS supt. timeline approved

By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
The first school board meeting since the mass shooting at Oxford High School began with a moment of silence. The meeting was at Oxford Middle School on Dec. 14, the same day the school was closed due to a threat made on social media.

Third-party review
The board approved, 7-0, a resolution supporting Superintendent Tim Throne’s recommendation for a third-party review of the events on and leading up to Nov. 30.
The review will look far beyond the criminal investigation into all the systemic factors that were at play and “will help provide transparency and accountability for our Wildcat community and help us emerge better and stronger,” the resolution says.
Throne called the resolution a first step in a long process. “We need to learn what happened here,” he said. “Not just how to react and provide safety to our students if such an event would occur; we need to do anything and everything we can to simply make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Similar reviews done at other districts are “very inclusive” 700-1,000 page reports. Throne thinks it will take months to complete.
In a press briefing before the meeting, Oxford Education Association President Jim Gibbons said the teachers union is “incredibly supportive” of the third-party review. “Both to figure out and to review what happened in Oxford, but systemically throughout the state so that no one in my position, a teacher, my colleagues, ever have to go through something like this in another school district or community.”

New superintendent search timeline
For the sake of continuity, Supt. Throne has put his retirement on hold. His last day was supposed to be Jan. 21.
Board President Tom Donnelly said Throne’s willingness to stay will help with the transition back into the classroom in addition to giving the board more time to hire a new superintendent.

Throne

The board unanimously approved an alternate search timeline that sets the previous timeline back about a month. The new timeline matches the original timeline that was recommended by John Silveri of the Michigan Leadership Institute, the superintendent search organization the board hired in October.
“It’s the same timeline, but it’s dated different,” Donnelly said.
A meeting that had been scheduled Dec. 15 was rescheduled for Jan. 20. At that meeting, the board will select candidates to interview.
First round interviews will be conducted Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Finalists will be selected Feb. 3. Finalist interviews will be Feb. 16-17. A board subcommittee will visit the current worksites of the finalists the following week of Feb. 21. The board will vote to select a new superintendent March 4. Then following a job offer negotiation, final board action to hire could tentatively be March 14, with the new superintendent’s start date tentatively March 28.
According to Donnelly, Silveri said in an email, “there are better than 10 applicants so far.”
The month-long job application window closed Dec. 13. The board opted against leaving it open another month.
“What would the benefit be?” asked Trustee Mary Hanser. “If we have a pool of applicants, we don’t need to change anything else.”
Trustee Heather Shafer felt the same way. “Usually an extension is because you need more of something, and I don’t know that we need more of something. I think if those people are willing to still stick with us and want to be part of our team, I think those are good applicants.”
During public comment, John Bridges, a parent, was concerned the search would not be reopened. “I think we can all agree that our future leaders are going to be critical,” he said.

Safety update
The number one question President Donnelly has been hearing from parents is: “What are you doing and what have you done to make it safer for our children?” Safety has been the number one priority, he said.
Assistant Supt. of Student Services Jill Lemond presented a list of additional safety measures that have been put in place since Nov. 30.
A strong law enforcement presence in the school buildings will continue “for the foreseeable future.”
Moreover, the district hired a third-party security firm, Eternal Security Services, to make sure every building has its own security guard. And a comprehensive security review with experts is underway.
For now, no backpacks are allowed in schools while the administration is working with several vendors to provide clear backpacks for every student.
The district uses several internet monitoring services, Gaggle and GoGuardian.
Gaggle looks at everything students create on their school Google accounts, including outgoing emails and any links or attachments. The district just started using this service a few weeks ago, but a contract had already been in the works.
Gaggle does not monitor social media, however, because of privacy rights. “We’ve been looking to the community to give us those tips,” Lemond said.
GoGuardian looks at inbound content coming in to school devices.
Next, Lemond described a zero-tolerance policy of “anything that is even remotely violent.” All incidents should immediately be reported to administration and law enforcement. Offending student are removed from school until they have a third-party mental health evaluation. “That might seem extreme to some,” she said, “but we’re absolutely going to be initiating that and have already done so.”
By “zero-tolerance” Lemond said, “There’s no room for discretion right now. Any student who provides anything that looks remotely violent or any way threatening is out of school. That’s putting it simply. Administration gets involved and law enforcement gets involved.”
Finally, Lemond pointed out that safety includes emotional safety as well as physical security. Licensed trauma counselors are at each school building. They are working with various organizations to help provide long-term support to those who may need it, including staff and community members. She encouraged those who need it to reach out to her office.

Public comments
“I heard we’re going to zero-tolerance. I thought we already were zero-tolerance,” Lori Bourgeau said. She doesn’t blame the teachers or the counselors for what happened. She blames the administration, because it is their job to set the expectations for what is supposed to be done in these situations. “This rests on the administration’s shoulders. Set the example. I wish you had set it a month ago. You could have saved lives.”
To prevent a similar incident from ever happening again, Anna Sommers recommended staff build relationships with all students, and that administration hire more counselors. She implored the district to stop searching their children as if they are criminals and help them get back to their normal routines.
“Right now this board is living in fear and responding in fear . . .,” she said. “To live in fear is no way to live. We must continue to live our lives and go through our normal routines. Our children need to get back to their normal routines. That is how Oxford wins. That is how our students win. And that is how we remain Oxford Strong.”
Stephanie Niemi, IB coordinator at Clear Lake Elementary and a parent, had only positive things to say about the board and district response, praising the reopening process of the lower level schools and the resources provided. “Thank you for the actions you are taking to help us all move forward, to keep us safe all while navigating so many moving parts, feelings and circumstances,” she said.
Brian Cooper said “the silence was deafening” waiting days after the crisis to finally hear from the administration by email. “An email is not a form of communication that we’re looking for as parents,” he said.
Before the public comment potion of the meeting, Donnelly explained that comments are not a dialogue and not a time for the board to answer questions. Cooper said he understood the rules for that meeting, but there still needs to be a dialogue.
“We need a public forum to speak about our children and how we’re going to handle this as a community,” he said “It feels very unilateral in how you’re presenting it to us and it needs to change. You can’t create a plan without having our input.”
“I would like to tell you that I heard you,” Donnelly said at the end of the meeting. “I’ve got notes on every card. There will be discussions about how to involve you, the community, in the problem solving.”

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