Time for school-wide culture change, admin. says

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Tom Williamson Color

In 1959, Thomas Williamson began his freshman year at Piedmont High. Williamson, the first black student to enroll in classes, would serve as student body president, go on to play football at Harvard, work as part of the Clinton administration, and get voted into the Piedmont Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Williamson and his family changed Piedmont’s culture of segregation and exclusion for the better, Principal Rich Kitchens said.

“That’s an example of a tradition that got changed,” he said.

A similar twenty-first century culture shift, Kitchens said, is what Piedmont needs.

PHS administration and staff are organizing three or four school-wide activities to emphasize respect and ethical behavior.

October’s uncovering of the “Fantasy Slut League” “provided momentum for our staff” to plan the days, Kitchens said.

“Sure, there’s a link with what’s happened in the past at this school, but, again, people can change, things can change, traditions can change for the better,” he said.

The project’s goals are long-term, Kitchens said. He said he hopes the assemblies and meetings are successful enough to provoke discussion going into next year.

“I am extremely confident that our students know the right thing to do,” he said. “We want to provide them with the feeling that they should do the right thing.”

On the first day, scheduled for Feb. 13, will be school-wide, teacher-led class discussions during fifth period. A PowerPoint and articles will accompany the discussions.

“We’ll have a lesson that was designed by a community of teachers, on some examples of situations that have changed,” Kitchens said. “So it’s a little bit history-oriented.”

History teacher Courtney Goen is leading of the lesson plan for Feb. 13.

On the second day, March 21, students will attend a 30-minute assembly put together by acting teacher Kim Taylor. Similar to the Date Rape Prevention Assembly held earlier this year, student actors will be involved, telling stories that strike close to home, Kitchens said.

“It’ll be from stories from Piedmont,” he said. “You’ll hear things that are familiar to you.”

Students will then return to their classes for a debrief, again during fifth period.

“You’ll have a set of discussion questions,” Kitchens said. “For a half-hour you’ll discuss what you’ve heard.”

A third day is calendared in for May 23. Librarian Susan Stutzman is coordinating a group of speakers centered around the ideas of respect, integrity and ethics. Students will be able to choose which speakers they attend, Kitchens said.

One speaker might focus on students and social media, he said.

“How to appropriately talk to one another and treat one another online in the privacy of your own computer,” Kitchens said. “These are not just for kids. These are questions for many of us.”

The fourth date, tentatively scheduled for April 11, will have student-centered and student-initiated discussions, Kitchens said.

Kitchens said more assemblies might be held next year.

“Next year, we can hit the ground running with some more meetings and discussion points around these topics,” he said.

Changing the school climate is a community undertaking, Kitchens said.

“I can’t do anything,” Kitchens said. “I’m just one little person on this earth. It’s going to take a lot of people to reflect on how we treat each other.”

Instead of holding assemblies in October or November, Kitchens and staff have chosen dates in the last few months of the year.

“Rather than rush to judgment to do something right away, which I think would have been hurtful, we took some time and thought about the issues,” Kitchens said. “The passion and the intensity that you experienced right at the beginning, the tension, has dissipated a little bit. That’s my sense.”