New Nettle Principal Attempts to Make ‘Culture Shift’ Amid 20 Suspensions So Far This Year

Dr. Paul Nettle School Assistant Principal Eileen Doherty, left, and Principal Shereen Escovitz address the School Committee in 2019. (WHAV News file photograph)

Principal Shereen Escovitz is well aware of the recent behavioral issues she inherited as a first-year administrator at Nettle, and in the wake of 20 suspensions in the first seven weeks of school, told members of the Haverhill School Committee she’s working to make what she calls a “culture shift” at the middle school.

In response to Committee member Maura Ryan-Ciardiello’s inquiry about the number of suspensions at school this year, Escovitz said she and Assistant Principal Eileen Doherty are introducing a host of “social-emotional supports” to combat behavior issues.

“Ms. Doherty and I are actively trying to reduce the incidents that cause suspensions. We have spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks discussing bullying issues, character, ways that we treat each other,” Escovitz said. “The feedback I get from most of the staff is that things seem a lot calmer right now than they did at this time a year ago, but I would look at the data before I made a call on that.”

While Escovitz did not have time to prepare year-over-year data regarding Nettle suspensions, Superintendent Margaret Marotta tells WHAV the 20 suspensions is indeed an increase compared to last year.

In addition to leveraging Haverhill Police School Resource Officer Nicole Donnelly, who leads the Gang Resistance and Training program for fifth and seventh graders, Escovitz has welcomed the Greater Haverhill Boys and Girls Club and Power of Self-Education to discuss anti-bullying and healthy decision making, she said.

Despite the suspension numbers on paper, Escovitz told the Committee she believes Nettle’s students are “engaged” and “excited” to learn. Marotta praised Escovitz’s early efforts, reminding the Committee that “things don’t change overnight.”

Under former principal Timothy Corkery, Nettle saw a host of issues last year including “non-credible” bomb scares and female student fights before Escovitz took over in August. Since then, the only major issue has been alleged threats made in September by a student who may have been in possession of a knife. According to Escovitz, school personnel and Haverhill Police “immediately located the student” and determined there was no threat to the school.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini agreed with Ecovitz, negating an earlier notion that the Nettle School was in crisis. However, Fiorentini reasoned suspensions could be warranted—for the betterment of the school community as a whole.

“If there were 20 suspensions, I’m not so sure that’s a terrible thing. If you don’t get the problem kids out of your classroom and you don’t stop them from disrupting, nobody’s going to learn,” said Fiorentini. “If we have to get kids out of the classroom and send them to the principal’s office or whatever we have to do, it gives the other kids a chance to learn.”

WHAV has requested—and Marotta’s office is preparing—comprehensive data surrounding suspensions at Nettle and other schools across the district.

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