Education, Local News

Parker teachers voice concerns over student behavior and crowded hallways

Several teachers from Parker Junior High School brought their safety concerns to the District 161 school board meeting on May 8.

Their comments focusing on safety concerns stemming from student behavior and overcrowding prompted Superintendent Dana Smith to offer a meeting with the educators.

The board also approved new positions as part of the district’s plan to restructure Parker as a middle school.

Adam Janotta, a teacher at Parker and an elected building representative, spoke to the board on behalf of teachers at Parker. Janotta mentioned that over the past 12 years, seven different principals have been at the school.


“Due to this lack of consistency and continuity of leadership, many of the procedures, standards, and institutions in place have been lost,” he said.

Janotta explained how behavior concerns were not properly addressed over the years. He cited the high turnover rate in the school’s administration and a lack of consistency as contributing factors to burnout and the loss of many good teachers at Parker in the last decade.

Another teacher and representative from Parker, Kaleena Kessling, talked to the board about a survey that was conducted among the teachers. The survey, though not completed by all of the faculty and staff, indicated that nearly 65% of respondents did not feel safe and 28% had been physically assaulted at school.

The vast majority of teachers at Parker reported being hit or having their personal space invaded during the school day. Kessling suggested that this could be due to overcrowding.

“If you have never been to Parker during the passing period, it’s an experience,” said Kessling. “It is crowded with students running and pushing.”

Chris Janotta, a teacher at Parker for the past 25 years and brother of teacher Adam Janotta, also spoke to the board.

“Lately, I feel like we are raising our students, our children, in a broken home,” he said. “Speaking from personal experience, a broken home can be detrimental for a child socially, emotionally and academically.” 

Despite the concerns voiced by the teachers, they all expressed their desire to remain at the Flossmoor school and work through the issues.

“As a board, I think we can all say that we have the same interest in making sure that Parker is improving,” said Board President Carolyn Griggs. “There are some really amazing things that are happening in the midst of some challenges so we are excited that you continue to be enthusiastic and committed.”

Smith acknowledged the hard work that had been done so far before agreeing to another meeting with the representatives from Parker. “We will follow up. It is really important. Parker teachers do a great job in the face of challenges every day. I’ve seen it in those classrooms and the hallways. We want to make sure that we match that,” said Smith.

According to Smith, the current enrollment at Parker is around 930 students. That number should fall dramatically in the next school year. Smith explained that the outgoing class of eighth graders is much larger than the class of incoming sixth-grade students.

According to board documents, Parker will be restructured as a middle school as opposed to a junior high. This change will be reflected by grade-level teams, advisory improvements, additional student mentoring opportunities, and improved behavioral and academic interventions.

As part of Parker Junior High’s transition to a middle school, the school board approved a request to hire a new dean and assistant principal. This action will bring the total number of deans at Parker to three and there will also be three assistant principals. The additional administrators are expected to alleviate some of the issues teachers have brought attention to.

A new program was implemented at Parker on April 24 to control the student use of phones during school hours. Each student was issued a locking Yondr bag to safely store their phones in their lockers.  The new policy is designed “to improve the communication and engagement between students,” said Amabel Crawford, the district’s director of learning and instruction. The phones can only be accessed by using a special magnet to open the Yondr bag. The magnet will be available at the end of the school day.

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