Bullying: State superintendent addresses ongoing crisis.

Bullying: State superintendent addresses ongoing crisis.

CREATED Apr 15, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) --  For months -- 9OYS  has been looking into a crisis at our schools -- bullying. Since our initial report in February of the 4 teen suicides during this school year alone -- our investigations into the issue have revealed some alarming allegations -- and in turn -- provoked some strong responses from our viewers.

KGUN9 viewers continue to want to know what is being done to protect students from bullies, so we headed to Phoenix to get answers from the state's top educational leader -- Superintendent John Huppenthal.

"We have 4 suicides occuring in these environments. We have systems that are not capable of getting the job done," said Huppenthal.

And conventional wisdom would dictate that someone should be held accountable when one fails in completing a job. We showed the superintendent a few of our reports from a number of districts -- including Vail and Marana -- as well as this disturbing case of a student who suffered a traumatic brain injury at Catalina Magnet High School and the frustrated parents who felt the system failed them -- for months on end.

"When you have incidents like this then you have broad failure in the social fabric," said Huppenthal.

KGUN9's Valerie Cavazos: "There's broad failure. The issue here is for the parent for that moment -- for that year -- even to get that child through that particular school year -- it's devastating to a family.
Huppenthal: It absolutely is.
Cavazos: But they might not be able to wait.
Huppenthal: At the same time, when I look at this I see this is endemic in the school systems we've created over the last hundred years. This is the system that we have.

A system that TUSD board member Micheal Hicks went on record as saying is now ineffective in the 24/7 technological world and when parents in his district feel they have no where else to turn for help he said the buck stops at the board.

Huppenthal reacts, "I reject the concept that the buck stops somewhere. It's a team effort. What we need to do -- we need to hold ourselves accountable as a state. So that is the metrics that I can be held accountable."

Those metrics, Huppenthal said, are subpar -- even nationwide -- so he wants the state to take the lead in changing them. "One of the things that we're working on -- and this is tough because we'll be the first state that does it. We'd like to go in the schools and measure the school climate and make that part of the accountability of the school district as well as the academics because we know the two go hand in hand. So we'd like to say show the metrics for the school climate -- district by district -- as well as their academics and eventually make that part of the accountability."

Huppenthal said he's working on this right now -- as well as collecting data on bullying incidents in each district. It's part of his strategic plan to help districts restructure schools to increase student success.

Meantime, he says principals should take a more active role in monitoring their schools' climate and parents can call the state's "safe schools" department to get advice and he says --  if needed -- his staff will be happy to have discussions with principals and superintendents to get issues  resolved.    

KGUN9 OYS will have more on the state's plans in the coming weeks.