On Monday, October 25, principal Dr. Jamie Chisum sat down for a press conference with The Bradford and discussed the high schools’ approach to bullying in light of a recent rally held at the high school on Wednesday, October 20 – a demonstration in support for the victim. Chisum addressed topics such as the bullying incident this summer, racism at the high school, and actions the high school is taking to prevent incidents like these from occurring in the future. Chisum also briefly commented on the high school’s declining national rankings.
Many people have mentioned to The Bradford their disappointment with the usage of the phrase “Young people make mistakes,” in Chisum’s late-night October 19 email with Lussier regarding the protest the following morning. Students and parents alike have expressed their concerns that the word “mistake” downplayed the incident and took away from its gravity. Chisum noted that he would still describe the incident as a mistake, but with some qualifications.
“Clearly this is a mistake, but there are grave mistakes and there are mistakes that are ‘I forgot my homework,’ or something. I would categorize this as a much heavier mistake, and maybe it would have been worthwhile to put that kind of description in front of it,” said Chisum. “I think describing it a little more deeply might’ve been more sensitive to how people received it. I certainly didn’t want people to think that I did not take it seriously, and if it came across that way, then I need to do a better job.”
Chisum commented on concerns that the school’s twelve-page bullying policy was not followed, both from the victim’s family and others at the rally and elsewhere.
“We followed it. We 100% followed it. We didn’t hear about the incident until late August, and we let the Wellesley Police do their investigation. We got the result; we did our own investigation. We held hearings, and we adjudicated those hearings and assigned punishments to the offenders,” said Chisum.
Chisum noted the difficulty in addressing this incident to the community due to restrictions imposed on the administration by state law that regulate what Chisum is and is not allowed to discuss publicly, considering the individuals involved most of the time are minors.
“I can’t go tell everyone in town what we’ve done if there’s a student discipline issue, and I think that’s right, to not do that to kids. I think that’s fair. That doesn’t mean we’re not taking it seriously, but I understand that’s how it’s been perceived. I’ve been trying to work on that and change that perception, but I understand that that’s how it came across to people,” said Chisum.
Chisum marked this event as one that the high school’s administration will use for reflection in the future, in terms of how the high school reacts to instances of bullying. While the high school is legally required to follow the Massachusetts State Bullying Policy, Chisum noted that public school principals are also encouraged to explore alternative methods of rehabilitation before turning to punishments like suspension.
Commenting on prevention policies, Chisum stated that the high school already has several practices in place meant to create a tight-knit community at the high school. Chisum mentioned advisory, guidance seminar, and the house system, as non-traditional bullying prevention measures.
“This year I’ve been talking to the staff about building a climate of care, and the need to build a climate of care here before we can get into the other work that we do. It’s precisely for this reason, it’s precisely to get to know kids. And, hopefully, some effort here on one of these peoples parts, whether that be a coach, or an extracurricular activity, or one of these teachers who took a special interest in you or an advisor or a guidance counselor or the house assistant, it doesn’t matter, it could be a custodian. We want every single person to be approachable,” said Chisum.
In terms of new methods for bullying prevention at the high school, Chisum said he wants to hear from students.
“I often say it’s all well and good when adults sit around a room and try to solve problems for kids but if you don’t bring a kid’s voice it’s not going to work. So, the right answer to that question is out there, not in here. Do I consider myself some kind of expert on working with high school kids? Yeah, among adults, but kids all know how to be a teenager better than I do because it’s been too long since I’ve been one. I would say that the answer to that comes from student voices,” said Chisum.
Biased-based incidents have been a continuous topic of conversation at the high school, and the conversation on how to make schools more inclusive and equitable for all has never left the forefront of the high school’s community.
Chisum noted that the practices used at the high school to combat inequity may not seem too obvious on the surface. He mentioned standards-based grading as a transition to a more equitable system.
“We are looking at the ways we teach. I can tell you that I am sure that all of you have had interactions with standards-based feedback. Why are we going towards standards-based feedback? Because we think it’s more equitable. That’s 100% of the reason for the push. We think it’s more equitable. That’s a dramatic shift,” said Chisum.
Although he believes injustice and inequity at the high school cannot be totally eradicated, Chisum wants to ensure that students are getting an equal educational experience through standards-based learning.
Parents of students at the high school have mentioned to The Bradford and online that they are unhappy with the high school’s declining ranking in the U.S. News Report. In 2019, the high school was ranked #19 in Massachusetts. Now in 2021, Wellesley has dropped to #26. Chisum noted the disconnect between what he, as an administrator of the school, prioritizes and what the rankings are based on.
“The objectives we prioritize, the social and emotional learning aspects, are not reflected in the rankings. Usually, you would hope that if you do your best it will be reflected in the rankings but that’s not always the case. Could I make APs mandatory for all 9th and 10th graders? Yes. Would our rankings shoot through the roof? Absolutely. But that isn’t always what’s best for the school,” said Chisum.
A full transcript and video of the interview with Dr. Jamie Chisum are available on our website here.