Rage against expectations of violence

While Walmart’s sloganeers (who sued the mega-retailer) caution us to “Watch out for falling prices,” there’s a far more insidious decline that warrants wariness: declining expectations of nonviolence. No longer do I harbor high expectations for the lowest prices at Walmart — especially since Ollie’s Bargain Outlet came to Rolling Hills Plaza on Westport Road. Though two violent events of the past week have hit close to home, I still expect to be safe. To expect otherwise is to be part of the problem.

Last Wednesday at 6:45 a.m., TV viewers in Roanoke, Virginia, watched in horror as two young servants of journalism, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27, were shot to death during a live interview. At midday, CNN was carrying the signal of affiliate WDBJ, which was covering its own tragedy with amazing grace. Eyes worldwide focused on Jeff Marks, the station’s remarkably poised, white-haired president and general manager, who confirmed the deaths, agonized, “Our hearts are broken,” and memorialized his two beloved staffers as “the nicest, kindest people who worked here.”

Of the murderer, a coworker fired two years prior and amid a final spiral after shooting himself, Marks said, “I’m not really sure I want him to live or die … On behalf of WDBJ, I just wanted to let that little bit of anger out.” Rarely is an expression of rage so measured, humanizing and appropriate. It seemed to convey the collective sentiment in newsrooms nationwide.

Marks knows something about leadership from his six distinguished years in Louisville. From 1975–81, he worked hard and smart at 84WHAS Radio and WHAS-TV in their heyday. Marks substituted hosted “Metz Here” for radio icon Milton “El Metzo” Metz and produced “Action 11 News,” a ratings dynamo co-anchored by Jim Mitchell and Kirstie Wilde. Last April, Marks was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. He would be pleased to know that the new noon co-anchors at WHAS-TV managed the emotional coverage with perfect pitch that paralleled his own.

At an interfaith memorial service on Sunday, Marks affirmed the urgency of addressing mental illness in earnest and transcended his animus. “Don’t get angry, get strategic,” he said. “Anger eats at you — and the results, (as) we saw on Wednesday, can be catastrophic.”

The other violent event last Thursday drew WAVE-TV’s Connie Leonard, my former colleague, to Ballard High School, my alma mater, where a student punched a teacher — an act that was unfathomable when I and WAVE meteorologist Andy Weingarten were classmates. Leonard uncovered stark contrasts between the teachers’ association and the Jefferson County Public Schools in grading the schools district’s misconduct management.

According to the JCTA union, “75 percent of teachers said in the survey they believe JCPS rarely or never supports schools that have student behavior problems” and “49 percent of teachers say behavior is a problem that negatively impacts their ability to teach most or all of the time.”

According to JCPS spokeswoman Bonnie Hackbarth, “JCPS doees not tolerate violence in schools; we have strict policies and procedures for addressing (it), and we provide training to assist our faculty and staff in de-escalating situations that might lead to violence.”

JCTA Vice President Tammy Berlin told WAVE the recent survey on classroom discipline, a first, came in response to escalating complaints. That’s consistent with what I hear from certified (teachers) and especially classified (bus drivers) personnel alike. JCPS recently offered experienced drivers an additional $2 per hour to volunteer for a “challenging” route. Evidently, it was too little too late; only 13 were claimed. One veteran bus driver told WDRB-TV, “A challenging run consists of one bus driver with 50 plus kids that are out of control, crawling on the floors, jumping over seats, cussing, hitting other students, making obscene gestures, pulling pants down … You name it, they do it.”

Paging Dr. Hargens!

Hargens should seize this discipline challenge to vindicate our high regard for her as a “talented and gifted” superintendent (see “JCPS needs its Diesel,” LEO Weekly, Aug. 27, 2014). It’s been 25 years since the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act made this commonwealth the nationwide innovator. It’s time to form a brain trust of enlightened stakeholders — the best and brightest students, parents, faculty and staff — to identify and implement best practices to abate incivility, bullying and violence. May high expectations lead JCPS to be part of the solution.