Real Problems Under Cloaks of Success, or How Polk Elementary Handles Bullying

I attended Gladys Polk Elementary in Richwood, Texas, from August 1992 to May 1999. It was a huge part of my early life (and some bad memories, discussed here), and I continue to keep track of what is going on at Polk–thanks to the Internet.

This past December, I read through its 2016-2017 Campus Improvement Planned (2017-2018 version is here) and noticed a few problems and a few interesting items. This report outlines its successes, challenges, and goals.

Reading through the 2016-2017 version, I was struck by the following statement: 

We have had only one bullying report that proved to be bullying this year.

I immediately remembered a meeting at UH about sexual harassment on campus. In this meeting, the person talking with us (a group of professors in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program) explained that she gets concerned when numbers are too low because that means people are not reporting sexual harassment/sexual assault.

The same goes with bullying. With an enrollment of around 500 students–ranging from people in early childhood to fourth grade–bullying is certainly happening every day, in every room. This is common sense. While times have changed and my experience is certainly not necessarily an indicator of all experience, I remember being bullied daily at Polk by other students and by teachers.

Claiming there was only one (real) case of bullying is to make a mockery of bullying. It gives bullies–student and teacher bullies–a “get out of jail” card, and it tells people bullied–student and teacher victims–that no one is listening.

While it might seem like a good thing, Polk’s “one occurrence” of bullying is absolutely alarming. What is it trying to hide? Or did it adopted some kind of artificial, narrow definition of “bullying”?

And further alarming, as I discovered while writing this article, is that Polk’s Campus Improvement Plan has this exact same statement about bullying in both its 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 reports. Sadly, they really don’t take bullying seriously.

Both reports also assert:

100% of students and staff expressed in the survey that they feel safe at school and that they feel valued and supported at school

Again, this result must be questioned. What kind of questions were asked in this survery? How were they framed? This survey is clearly hiding problems because there is no way every student feels safe, valued, and supported at Polk, even if they don’t yet have the agency or voice to see it. 

On the note of interesting, students now recite Polk’s mission statement each day:

The mission of Polk Elementary is to ensure all students learn at high levels and are future ready.

Mission statements are typically interesting, but this statement strikes me: only students are supposed to learn? Why doesn’t it say “to ensure all members of the community learn”? And it should be “future-ready.”

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda