In a two-hour and at times emotional town hall, Killeen Independent School District school officials including Superintendent John Craft, Police Chief Ralph Disher and School Board President JoAnn Purser solicited advice from about two dozen parents regarding how to help combat “a perceived increase in school violence.”
“This violence is often over nothing,” said PTA Council President Trina Thompson. “We’re baffled.”
Thompson, who opened the meeting, said the rise in violence was associated with social media and a lack of structure.
“When we’re all gone, we want those kids to be able to take over,” she said.
Disher clarified that KISD is currently experiencing a level of violence similar to two years ago.
“We’ve had 14 or 15 assaults this year, compared to 17 assaults two years ago,” he said.
However, Disher also stated that there is a current need to connect with students to reduce violence levels by connecting with parents and students.
Teresa Bonilla asked the panel what was “really being done” about children’s safety. She pointed out a seemingly dichotomous relationship between student health and student conduct.
Bonilla said students are often pulled out of class for dress code violations and other “minor issues,” actions that she says distract from “the real issues” and directly work against providing encouraging environments.
Another resident asked for monthly reports regarding school violence, which he said would allow parents to better understand the state of the school system and speak to their children. This would replace the current yearly report.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of hearing about assaults. We should be able to talk to our children,” he said. “What I have seen is a resistance to share information with the public.”
In response, Disher said that he “doesn’t have an issue sharing information” but that many incidents involve minors, which make it difficult to share specifics.
Disher also pointed out that much of what the public hears is spread through social media, which he says can spread misinformation, and is not the right platform for the district to inform the public.
Another resident stated the importance of approachable staff, specifically describing an unnamed resource officer as “intimidating.” Disher responded by saying that the school district seeks to avoid “confrontational” or “intimidating” staff, while aiming for approachability.
“A lot of what happens in school originates from in or about the community,” Craft said.
Craft also responded to a previous resident, saying that dress codes are “one of those things that we’ll have to agree to disagree on” and that they are “one of those ‘give an inch and they’ll take a mile’ issues.”
Purser, speaking to the issue of responsibility, asked parents to generate a movement to help guide KISD students.
“The only way for a movement to happen is for people to show up,” she said, thanking the attendees for coming.
“We do recognize the violence,” she said. “What we are asking is for the public to take care of their household.”
Purser pointed out that the school district provides two meals for students, including during the summer. According to Purser, this has created an entitlement program.
“[The school district] ... is just for educating students,” she said.
Thompson stated that part of the issue with school violence is the lack of male role models. Thompson pointed out that the majority of attendees for the town hall were female, and that children needed to see both men and women volunteering within the school system.
Shifting into the final topic of the night, Killeen Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King stated that the primary issue within the school system today is that students are not taught conflict resolution.
“We have to be part of the solution, not the problem,” she said.
Karl Robinson, a pastor in Marlboro Heights, agreed, saying that children today lack conflict resolution skills. He said that many children “don’t think about how far it could go.”
Craft concluded the meeting by speaking to what he said was one of the primary difficulties currently facing the school district — the teacher shortage.
“For the first time in a decade, since I’ve been here, we have over 200 vacancies,” Craft said, which he says has created “real challenges.” Craft clarified that the total shortage is up to 288 vacancies, with the majority of vacant positions being bilingual and special education positions.
Purser, speaking in turn, said that the next workforce will be “marginally educated and undisciplined.”
“It’s gonna take a team effort,” Craft said before closing the meeting.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 254-501-7552