Hinsdale South students, parents, teachers and administrators all spoke out at Monday night’s Hinsdale Township High School District 86 Board meeting to express their belief that the school is a safe place.
“I’ve been going to Hinsdale South for three-and-a-half years and I can say that I’ve only witnessed one fight,” said Jenna Kandah, the board’s student liaison at the school. “Fighting is not at all a big part of what goes on at Hinsdale South.”
Kandah and the other speakers were reacting to recent statements made by Board Member Dianne Barrett and school board candidates Bruce Davidson and Claudia Manley.
“I was very offended by the comment Ms. Barrett made,” Hinsdale South Student Council President Joelle Fararo said. “I love to come to school every day. I have no fears of walking in the hallways.”
At a board meeting two weeks ago, Barrett said fighting was going on at the school “almost on a daily or weekly basis.” At a candidates forum last week, Manley asserted that some students were afraid to walk down certain hallways.
In her remarks, Mary Della Chiesa of Burr Ridge, who said she was active as a parent in many Hinsdale South organizations, noted that Barrett was absent from Monday’s meeting.
“The reason I’m here … is to let her know that I was personally insulted by the reckless comments and the references she made about Hinsdale South,” Della Chiesa said. “I’m even more stunned after going to the last candidates forum to hear some of the comments from the candidates regarding our school.”
Della Chiesa said administrators, teachers, students and everyone associated with the Hinsdale South community deserved an apology for those statements.
“They are not true,” she said. “They are painting a terrible picture of a great school. It just reeks of old dirty politics that I thought was gone from this board.”
Principal presents statistics on discipline referrals
Hinsdale South Principal Brian Waterman presented the board with data on the number of discipline referrals to his office for fighting and drug violations over the past 10 years. The statistics show referrals for fighting peaked at 81 in the 2003-04 school year. So far this school year, there have been 16 referrals for fighting. More than half way through the academic year, that puts the school on a pace to record the fewest fighting incidents in the past 10 years. The previous low number of fighting referrals was 32, recorded in the 2008-09 school year.
The data Waterman presented on drug violations was less conclusive, showing no discernible trend. For example, the highest number of discipline referrals involving drugs was 29 during the 2003-04 school year. However, that was sandwiched between the years with the lowest number of drug-related referrals (5).
There were 18 discipline referrals involving drug violations during the 2008-09 school year and nine the following year. So far, there have been 15 during this academic year.
Waterman said Hinsdale South was one of the best schools in the area by any measure.
“We send our top students to the best universities in the world,” he noted. “The best thing about our school is truly the diversity we have. … Diversity is not something we deal with. It’s not something we put up with. It’s something we embrace.”
School personnel agree Hinsdale South is safe
“I have never had a student tell me they felt unsafe, ever,” said Rick Sasso, director of the English Language Learners program at the school, where he has been on staff for nine years. “Hinsdale South is a safe and wonderful school. It hurts me when people say things that aren’t true.”
Patricia Diggs, a dean who has been at the school 15 years, said she receives frequent phone calls from parents outside the district who want to send their children to Hinsdale South.
“Why are they trying to get in our school?” she asked. “Because it’s a good school.”
Hinsdale South librarian Kathy Wynn said the comments about fighting and illegal drug use at the school were hurtful to staff, students, and the community at large.
“We now have a climate that is more conducive to learning than we had a few years ago,” she said.