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McCormick Junior High is seen Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – McCormick Junior High’s new principal, Justin Conroy, doesn’t want to end up like his predecessor.

Jeff Conine, the school’s longtime principal, left amid controversy surrounding racist and homophobic flyers found on campus last spring.

To that end, Conroy, who previously worked in Rapid City, South Dakota, told the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees on Monday night how McCormick will use a peer-to-peer program called Networks of Support to address bullying and foster an inclusive school climate.

“This allows students an outlet to communicate about any issues they might have. It could be a social issue. It could be a bullying issue. It could be vaping,” Conroy said.

The small group setting, he said, will also provide an opportunity to implement “cultural awareness and deals with trauma.”

Improving cultural awareness – and discouraging the kind of bigoted bullying reported last spring – is what motivated the board to issue an action plan for McCormick last May.

When Conroy became principal last fall, he inherited the responsibility to carry out that action plan. Conroy told the board that he’s analyzed the action plan to see how well-equipped the school was to handle each issue.

“One of the big questions was ‘how are you going to address bullying?’,” Conroy said. The school banned cellphone use, which Conroy said “(has) been very productive. It’s brought down bullying and cyber-bullying to an extreme low.”

Launching Networks of Support is another strategy to further mitigate bullying at McCormick.

“So if an issue comes up between three students, how do you figure that out?” Rose Ann Million Rinne, vice-chairwoman of the board, asked Conroy.

“That (student) mentor will communicate with the lead team member and ask for guidance,” Conroy said. “You just want to create that outlet for students to discuss their stresses.”

Networks of Support is similar to a previously proposed program called SPIRIT, which the district promised to roll out by Nov. 1 of last year, but failed to do.

The delayed timeline invoked frustration among members of the Wyoming Independent Citizen Coalition, an advocacy group that formed in the wake of the incident last spring.

“They’re backpedaling on what we said should be done. They’re not following through,” Stephen Latham, a coalition member, said earlier this month.

Conroy said he has since engaged in lengthy discussion with Latham and other community leaders about Networks of Support. For the most part, he has their backing. He think Networks of Support, which he’s worked with in the past, will be “just as, if not more, beneficial than the SPIRIT program because it’s student-centered and sustainable.”

Latham was not present at Monday’s board meeting, and no public comment was offered about the plan.

McCormick will start building-wide training for faculty and staff in February and move toward full implementation, including training student mentors, by April.

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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