More than 100 attend Fairbury school board meeting, 20 voice concerns about ‘bad culture’

Click here for our extended recap of the meeting.

FAIRBURY, NE — A significant chunk of Fairbury residents think there’s a culture problem in the local public school district.

“It makes me sick to hear these people (talk about) the things they’re going through,” one concerned citizen said.

It wasn’t your typical Fairbury School Board meeting on Monday night. The meeting moved to the ’47 gym to accommodate about 130 guests. 20 people spoke to the board about school culture concerns, with issues generally focused on school administration.

“These are great teachers. We feel they are overwhelmed and unsupported by the administration.”

"Teachers are afraid to come forward because they fear they could lose their jobs. If the staff is afraid to stand up for a student - and I know this problem exists - we better ask why it exists."

"I'm sad for the environment my daughters are subjected to daily and even more fearful to send my three-year-old through this district."

"There's a great lack of respect for our teachers by administration and lack of support when teachers bring issues to their attention."

The group compiled statistics from the district and shared them with NCN. The number of local students opting out to other districts increased from 30 to 74 over a nine year stretch. At least seven teachers have resigned in each of the last five years, including 12 this year. The district’s testing performance and college-going rates all lag behind its peers.

About 1/3 of people who spoke shared specific concerns about the handling of special needs students. Many of them moved their kids to other districts as a result.

Nearly all urged the school board to be more open with the community.

“If I could just ask you to please be transparent and accountable. If we can do that, I think everything will work better.”

Superintendent Stephen Grizzle says it was hard to listen to all the concerns. He says it will take some time to reflect on and analyze the issues.

“We’re not going to shy away from (the criticisms)," Grizzle said. "We need to step into them and really work the problem.”

Board President Barry Schwab says the board can work harder at communicating. He pledged to work to organize public forums.

“Where maybe some board members are present, some administrators are present, where the patrons can come and we can actually have some dialogue,” Schwab said.

Grizzle says he’s grateful to the locals who spoke to the board. He asks for patience as the district works to improve.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight," Grizzle said. "It’s something we’re going to have to work on, but it’s something that we’re committed to doing.”

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