W-right the ship? Veteran educator trying to restore order at Bartram

Posted: April 11, 2014

VETERAN EDUCATOR Ozzie Wright knows how to handle a conflict. The Army veteran has served in Iraq, is a tae kwon do master and has dealt with "climate" problems at South Philly High and West Philly High.

One week into his latest assignment as co-principal at Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia, in the wake of several violent incidents, Wright acknowledged yesterday that the troubled school needs more resources and increased involvement from students and parents.

"Everybody needs to have a safe feeling. This is what we want to establish here," he told the Daily News. "I think in order to do that we need more resources, which the district has provided us some additional resources presently."

Much of the focus so far, Wright said, has been on enforcing rules - cellphones must be turned off in class, students must be in uniform and there are penalties for tardiness. Administrators are being asked to be more visible in the hallways during and between classes, along with school police and officers from the 12th District.

Changes have also been made to the building, such as installing alarms at entrances and exits and smoke detectors in every bathroom, he said.

At the same time, Wright - who is officially retired but plans to stay at least through the end of the school year - is candid about the fact that Bartram needs more staff to make the changes lasting. "We are looking to increase additional staff for some particular activities, but I don't know if that's been approved yet, but we are looking into it and I think it's something that's on the table," he said.

The school also wants students and parents to get more involved in shaping the climate for learning. A project set up by the International Institute for Restorative Practices will help build relationships between students, staff and parents, and a forum for students to sit down with the principal and staff to discuss their concerns and possible solutions is also being set up. A community meeting will be held at 7 tonight.

"In order to address student needs, we wanted to re-establish our peer-mediation program and open the conversation up to students because students need to have a voice," said Wright, adding that student feedback will be a focal point of tonight's meeting.

And although the West Philly native isn't promising a quick turnaround, he said the staff has seen a great improvement this week, with just two fights that he described as relatively minor.

Prior to being brought to Bartram, Wright was principal at West Philadelphia High for two months in 2010 before stepping down for unspecified health challenges. Before that, he was brought in to help calm racial tension at South Philadelphia High.

Community members certainly hope Wright can be part of the solution at Bartram, which has been beset with problems since the beginning of the year. There have been several serious violent incidents in the past few weeks, highlighted by a March 21 assault on a conflict-resolution specialist that left him unconscious.

Helen Gym, a parent activist and co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, said Wright can't fix the school on his own.

"It's not like he comes with a magic wand," Gym said. "The issue to me at Bartram that the district needs to explain is how does a school go from a staff of 148 in 2011 to 101 and expect that to not have any consequences? It's just irresponsible."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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