Safety concerns consume Bartram High in wake of assault on staffer

Posted: March 27, 2014

SPRING BREAK can't come fast enough for faculty and staff at Bartram High School.

After a week in which three staff members were injured by students - including a man knocked unconscious - faculty members described an atmosphere of chaos at the Southwest Philadelphia school.

"We're understaffed, and the kids - they [are] just out of control," Tineta Smith, who works with special-needs students, said yesterday. "They [are] bringing substances in, walking in the halls, smoking marijuana."

Due to budget cuts last year, the school district laid off thousands of workers, leaving many schools with very little staff to monitor the hallways. As a result, Smith said, students roam the building undeterred, come and go as they please, and teachers who confront students are often cursed out or threatened.

"I've been threatened many a time and I work with special-ed students, but we still gotta interact with the rest of the population. It's just ridiculous," she said.

Despite the disorder, Smith and other teachers said, they support the principal, Kimberly Collins, who is in her first year at the school.

"I can't knock her and I'm not putting [any] blame on her," said Katrina Williams, who assists special-needs students. "Nowadays, I think she's doing a hell of a good job with the staff we have in there. She's got to take some of her teachers and use them as hall monitors."

A conflict-resolution specialist at Bartram suffered a fractured skull Friday after a student grabbed him by the arm and pushed him into a wall after a verbal dispute, district spokeswoman Deirdre Darragh said. Earlier in the week, a teacher was hit with a book thrown by a student in a classroom, and another teacher was accidentally injured while breaking up a fight, Darragh said.

Data are conflicting on serious-incident reports at the school. Darragh said 34 serious incidents have been reported this school year, compared to 38 during the same period last year, but online data revealed 50 incidents through Dec. 18.

The district said administrators at the school plan to meet with staff, and to hold a separate forum for students.

Jerry Jordan, president of the union that represents teachers and support staff in the district, said personnel reductions have made it tough for all schools, including Bartram.

"When children are able to smoke in buildings and do other things they should not be doing and they find that there's no one to say, 'You can't do that,' we're asking for trouble," Jordan said.

"Most of the children go to school and they do the right thing - they want to get an education - but when you have a few knuckleheads you have to deal with them to let them know that this is a school for all the students and they can't ruin it."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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