Don't forget to visit The Waldorf Review for more up-to-date school reviews and news stories.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Highland Hall - Students Hitchhiking during Camping Trip

This letter is from June 6, 2005

Highland Hall Strikes Again

How about something more recent - last week.

Here's the set-up:

1. Highland Hall has a history of problems dating back more than 10 years and the recurring themes are poor leadership, cover-ups and misinforming parents, disregard for the law and supporting bad teachers while alienating good teachers.

2. Highland Hall regularly disguises itself after a crisis - sometimes with new administrators, sometimes by shifting power from College to Board, sometimes employing more creative methods.  After each disguise, Highland Hall tells the parent body "Now we're different - now you can trust us."  This is never the case - the same people who controlled the school 10 years ago are still screwing up the school now.

3.  The current implementation of leadership came on the heels of a crisis (as they always do) and was punctuated by the disbursement of the College of Teachers.  A governance consultant was called in to come up with a governance plan that would work around the missing College and provide a system of leadership that would relieve the Board from this responsibility.  The result was a 5 member "leadership team".

4.  The current 7th grade has been struggling with problems over the years - they have been through at least 5 teachers - 3 of which have left under crisis conditions.  Their current teacher has taken medical leave for the remainder of the year.  She is one of the good teachers the leadership team would like to replace.

5.  Three of the five members of the leadership team are parents in the 7th grade.  They supposedly exclude themselves from decisions involving the 7th grade.  The remaining two members are one kindergarten teacher and one nursery teacher.  Those who know my situation know why this is especially significant.

6.  At our teacher's suggestion, over two months, I prepared a 4 week main lesson block on mechanics (I've got 35 years of mechanical design experience).  I was told at the last minute by the leadership team that I would not be allowed to participate in this class.  They were happy to get my outline, however.

7.  Our teacher's one request for the camping trip was that I absolutely MUST go.  I have taken the kids on each camping trip since the 2nd grade with the exception of last year (and I was told by many people that it was a disaster).  I intended to (and promised them I would) take them this year.  The leadership team (two people) decided that only teachers would be allowed to go on the trip this year.  After a huge outcry from parents and a petition signed by the kids themselves, it was decided that parents and teachers would go on the trip.  Three experienced parents, an inexperienced leadership team member and two inexperienced teachers went on the trip.  I would NOT be allowed to go.  When, at a parent meeting, I asked why I was excluded, I was told that it was because I post criticisms of Highland Hall on the internet.  Gee, wonder why? 

So, here we are to present day - the camping trip was last week and, big surprise, a HUGE crisis due to inadequate supervision and poor leadership (one member of the leadership team was on the trip BTW).  Here's the report I got:

The campsite was at Big Sur (a coastal woodland in California).  The kids were directed to hike to the beach - a 4 mile down hill hike along a winding PUBLIC road.  For those who don't know, 4 miles for kids is a pretty long hike even if it is down hill.  After a pretty exhausting day at the beach, the kids were directed to HIKE BACK - 4 miles UP HILL.  Apparently, nobody had thought to arrange for the cars to be brought down to ferry the kids back.  The difficulty of the hike was too much for many of the kids - some broke down in tears - one was described as being hysterical. 

The kids did their best to cope with the mismanagement of the hike.  Some took it at their own pace and it was reported that the slowest group took an hour and a half to manage the 4 mile hike.  The kids were, in fact, spread out over the entire 4 miles (instead of being in supervised groups) and some took matters into their own hands.  THEY HITCHHIKED.  According to the most reliable report I received, at least 7 kids (and possibly many more) in different groups ACCEPTED RIDES FROM STRANGERS on a public road.  One group was reportedly spotted by supervisors more than once - told to get out of the cars and then, when the supervisors were out of sight, accepted another ride.  According to the report, one group accepted at least three rides to get to the campsite.  How could the supervisors who realized kids were hitchhiking and got them out of the car lose track of the same kids?  One report said all the boys in the class and a few of the girls accepted rides from strangers.  Again, this was a public road and there were private homes along the way - it was not a specific road to and from the campgrounds. 

Additionally, and I'm not sure if this event happened before or after the hitchhiking incidents - and how both events could occur on the same camping trip is amazing to me as red flags would have been waving furiously after the first event regardless of which event came first - but in any case a second incident occurred when the kids had been allowed to go to the river unsupervised.  They had been there with supervision on the previous day and had been jumping of a rock outcrop into the river.  The report I received was that the outcrop was 60 feet above the water - so I'm guessing it must have been 20 feet or more.  The problem is that the kid's feet came into hard contact with the bottom when they jumped in - i.e. the spot was too shallow for this activity.  I am going to assume that no supervisor tried this jump before letting children attempt it.  Anyway, the children were told on this day not to jump off the rocks - which, of course, they did - having no supervisor around to stop them (this is a no-brainer for me).  Thank God nobody jumped in head-first.

It was clear that the inexperience of the authoritative half the group (the teachers and leadership team member) had run amok and had not only put children in harm's way, AGAIN, but has exposed Highland Hall to multiple lawsuits.

An emergency meeting was called by the interim teacher.  He described the incidents differently than what had occurred.  It wasn't clear at all that more than one group of kids had hitchhiked.  It sounded like this was a single event.  He said that he had talked to all the parents of kids that had participated in this activity.  I felt relieved that my son was apparently not involved.  After the meeting, through another parent, I found out that my son WAS one of the kids that hitchhiked - and I was not informed.  When I asked the teacher about it, he said he had heard my son "may" have been involved but wasn't sure.  Bullshit!  I can't imagine that he wouldn't have asked to find out - and if he had heard this and didn't find out, then he is not doing his job.  I suspect that the information was kept from me intentionally. 

So now we have another crisis.  All because a petty leadership team felt they needed to exclude me from the camping trip.  Anyone who has ever been on a camping trip with me KNOWS this would never have happened if I was there.  NEVER in a million years.  YOU DON'T LEAVE KIDS UNSUPERVISED ON A PUBLIC ROAD!!!  EVER!!!  Every parent who knows me, I am sure, knows I would have gone head-to-head with anyone on the trip suggesting such a ridiculous plan.  Parents who entrust their kids to Highland Hall on camping trips expect a level of responsibility - they expect their kids to be safe, always.  This is something that Highland Hall apparently doesn't understand.  You DON'T have the right to do this to other people's children.  It is a BIG deal that this happened AND that the leadership team set it up to happen through their thoughtlessness.  And just like when children do something wrong, there WILL be consequences.

Pete Karaiskos