At Bartram High, sweeping changes aim to curb chaos in the halls

Posted: April 07, 2014

AS ADMINISTRATORS and staffers work to restore order at Bartram High School after a recent rash of brawls and assaults, a number of teachers expressed guarded optimism yesterday about some of the steps being taken.

But most also agreed that the Southwest Philadelphia school's environment will improve vastly once budget cuts implemented last year are restored.

The school district's plans to improve Bartram's climate start with the hiring Wednesday of veteran problem-solver Ozzie Wright to be a co-principal with a focus on school safety. In addition, four more police officers will be deployed at the school, district officials said.

Bartram will also implement restorative practices, a project that focuses on reducing violence and bullying by building relationships among students, staff and parents, officials said.

Changes amid crisis

At the school yesterday, School Police Chief Inspector Carl Holmes and the local police district captain met at Bartram with representatives from school district facilities and the truancy office.

The school, on 67th Street near Paschall Avenue, has been in crisis mode since a March 21 assault on a school conflict-resolution specialist that left him unconscious with a fractured skull - the same week two teachers also were injured in assaults.

Earlier this week, nine students were suspended after a fight captured on cellphone video went viral on social media.

Several meetings have been held with staff, students and parents to discuss the persistent problems at Bartram. A parent meeting is also scheduled for Tuesday to continue the dialogue.

Administrators at the school have begun stricter enforcement of the rules, such as requiring students to turn off cellphones, imposing penalties for lateness and enforcing the uniform policy, one teacher said.

"So far, things are starting to look better," said the teacher, who declined to give her name for fear of retribution.

A special-education teacher, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the number of staffers seems to have increased in the wake of the recent violence and news coverage that followed.

"Everybody's talking about it," she said. "The consciousness seems to be shifting."

When asked what kinds of interventions she thought would help the school, she said: "A really strong reading program. I feel like that would make a really good impact. People say, 'Well, that costs money.' So does more security."

One math teacher, however, said he feels the district is taking "a Band-Aid approach."

That strategy "is going to make it difficult to help the education of the children," he said.

Another special-education teacher said she blamed Gov. Corbett's underfunding of district schools for the school's issues.

"There are not enough people making sure that kids are moving along to class," the teacher said.

The school now has hallway sweeps between classes, she said. Also, principal Kimberly Collins gets on the loudspeaker between classes to tell students how much time they have before the next class begins.

Four school police officers currently oversee the 1,067-student population.

The good majority

One commercial art teacher, Shawna Marchica, who is in her first year at the school, approached a Daily News reporter about what she thought was missing from news coverage of the Bartram incidents.

"We're sensationalizing the bad students and they're all over the paper. And we're forgetting about all the students that are doing really well," Marchica said.

She said a group of five students will attend a Technology Student Association conference next week in Seven Springs, outside of Pittsburgh. The group has already won awards in regionals.

The students, Marchica said, "are productive and are just great and a pleasure to have in class. And we're proud to have [them] at the school."

Bartram has had a tough time since the start of the school year, when the new principal was transferred out after two weeks. Teachers and students said the school has been plagued with fighting, smoking indoors, students hanging out in the hallways coming and going as they please.

At the same time, staff members said, the majority of students are focused and respectful.

"I'm proud of the 95 percent who are doing a good job," one staffer said, noting that student morale has taken a hit from the recent violence. "They take pride in their school."

Some students say despite the changes, the school is still in disarray.

"[It's the] same arguments, same fights," said 11th-grader Kareem Brown. "Nothing has changed."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

comments powered by Disqus