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'War Zone' No More? Courtenay Beefs Up Security, Plans Anti-Bully Campaign

By Adeshina Emmanuel | January 17, 2014 10:46am
 Members of the school community said they were looking to move past internal tensions and find solutions.
Changes at Courtenay Aim to Address Safety and Security Concerns
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UPTOWN — A month after parents and teachers expressed concerns about what some called a "war zone" at Mary E. Courtenay Elementary School, additional security has been hired and school leaders say they're trying to tackle the issue of student fighting.

The Local School Council at Courtenay met Thursday for the first time since a December meeting, when teachers and students described security issues on the school's third floor, where a pregnant teacher was punched in the head while breaking up a fight between eighth-grade girls and other fights were reported.

The problems, some said, stemmed from a Board of Education decision last May to merge Courtenay with Joseph Stockton Elementary School, causing "a clash of school cultures." Courtenay's old building in Ravenswood was closed, and the student bodies were consolidated at the former Stockton building, 4420 N. Beacon Ave.

At a Thursday LSC meeting, CPS safety manager Kathryn Hindmand said the school now has a third security guard. Hindmand was joined by other CPS officials, including Ravenswood-Ridge Network Chief Craig Benes.

Principal Macquline King also announced that the school is hiring a teaching assistant to provide classroom support for some teachers "who feel they need additional assistance to manage the dynamic in the classroom."

King, parents, teachers and community members present also discussed launching a schoolwide anti-bullying campaign to educate kids about what bullying is, how to combat it nonviolently, and how to avoid being bullies themselves.

"We are addressing the issues we have," LSC chairwoman Cassandra Vickas said.

"The parents got to vent, which everybody needs to do. And now the LSC has time to address it," said Vickas, who has two children enrolled at Courtenay.

Teacher Claudia Pesenti brought child social health advocate Adenia Linker to the meeting to discuss the nonviolent communication training she does for middle schoolers at a Pilsen school.

"Most people aren't interested in pointing fingers and living in the past" at Courtenay, LSC member Matt Maloney said.

Maloney said some people's usage of the term "war zone" to describe the third floor of the school, was "an inflammatory statement."

"War is a lot worse than conflict," he said. "We have to teach kids how to deal with things better and communicate."

Teacher Ramone Goggins acknowledged "some incidents" on the third floor — but he said "it's not a 'war zone.'"

Pesenti, who compared the third floor to a "war zone" because of frequent fighting, said Friday that she was "responding to concerns voiced, emailed and texted to me throughout this school year."

Some students and others agreed with the description.

Pesenti is a Chicago Teachers Union delegate and chairwoman of the school's Professional Problems Committee.

"I am representing my teachers and staff as the elected CTU delegate and chairperson," Pesenti said. "My service to the school community extends beyond my CPS obligations. We will continue to work for peace and justice in Uptown, whatever the name of our building. Whenever we are needed to rise up, we will."

King said Stockton and Courtenay had to transition quickly over the summer, which caused some rough spots, but she was confident they could move forward.

"Despite the conflict, we all want what's best for children," she said. "Everybody now has an opportunity to be a part of something that's great from the ground up."