Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 30th 2014

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Interview with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas

Direct answers to direct questions on WMS

IS WARRINGTON MIDDLE SCHOOL STILL HIS “TURNAROUND” SCHOOL?
Thomas: “I want it to be. I want it to be for the students. I want it to work out. We have roughly 800 kids who go to that school. I need it to be a good school. They need it to be a good school. Their future is at stake.

“Everyone thinks it’s a throw away school, and that’s not what I think at all. I know I can’t change the perception of that school by myself. First we had to get the students under control there. Next, we need to attract our best and brightest teachers there. Teachers need to feel it’s a good place to be.

“I’m not giving up on Warrington Middle School students. I know a lot of people do. As long as we continue to move forward, I will do all I can to continue to support them and work through the challenges.”

ON THE FIRST YEAR AT WMS:
Thomas: “I think the first year really had its challenges: challenges with the students, challenges with staffing. It took time for the entire team to get on the same page. I think what I underestimated most is the time it takes to develop the synergy you need to have on a team.

“It’s a mixed bag. We’ve had some success and we’ve had some challenges, and we knew it would be that way. You don’t start working with a whole new group and think it will be simple and easy. It’s hard work to do what we’re doing there. It’s hard work, and it’s not over yet.

“This year we’re in a much better position. We’re getting there. We still have progress to make, obviously. But when you look at how far the staff has brought the school compared to five years ago, we’re on the right track.

“It’s a very challenging school. They (the students) live in some challenging situations. I’m very optimistic on what I see in the classrooms this year. Teachers there will tell you they’ve seen marked progress. A few teachers there have been through it all. A few who were competent and good, we let return.”

ON CURRENT SCHOOL YEAR:
Thomas: “We’re trying to build relationships with parents. That’s another weak area for us. We saw some progress with the new gym there. Uniforms are a big help this year. This is our only middle school that parents voted to accept uniforms.”

ON PRINCIPAL SANDRA RUSH AND DISCIPLINE TEAM:
Thomas: “I think there has been growth. There have been moments of victory and moments of great trial. Through some of those tough experiences, that’s where you learn your best lessons. I know she (Rush) loves the students. She has great management and great rapport with the community.

“You have got to have a team and really draw on the strength of the individuals on your team. Some might be good with hugs. Then there are those times when you need an iron fist. The (students) have got to know not to try any junk that they do. That’s why we brought in two experienced deans this year. It’s helping the students settle in and be more focused in the classroom. The discipline issues have gotten more under control.

ON ALLEGATION HE TOLD HIS STAFF TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY ON RUSH OR THE SCHOOL’S PROBLEMS:
Thomas: “Absolutely not. Nobody gets a free pass. We ordered audits. We have high expectations for everyone, including me. We expect ethical conduct at every turn.

“Not every offense is a death penalty offense. I’m going to weigh all the facts, whether it’s a student or an employee. Some misinterpret or interpret differently most of the issues Sandra dealt with. The audit had findings, but a lot of schools have findings in an audit. That’s why you do a corrective action plan.”

ON FOLLOW UP AT WMS:
Thomas: “Warrington Middle School has a lot of checks and balances in place. There’s good oversight there. It seems to be working.”

ON UNDERREPORTING CRIME AND VIOLENCE:
Thomas said that he can’t explain the difference in percent of incidents reported compared to the rest of the state. But he says, “I have no indication we’re underreporting.”

Thomas said training on the reporting requirements was recently done with deans and staff and he believes they are doing it correctly. “We’re constantly training deans on the reports and what to report.”

ON ALLEGATION HE HAD INSTRUCTED WMS STAFF NOT TO TALK TO MEDIA:
Thomas: “That has never been said. We’re open. We try to be as transparent as possible.”

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Read IN Cover Story: Tarnished Turnaround.

WEB EXTRA

You can read online 2009-10 School Year: SESIR Spreadsheet, SESIR Definitions and Guidelines, the reports, notes and interviews of District Investigator John Dobbs and the offense reports submitted by the school resource officers to their supervisors. Click here.