Parents, community sound off on Bartram High troubles

ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Dawn Hawkins , parent of a Bartram student, applauds during a spirited meeting to discuss the recent violence at the school.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Dawn Hawkins , parent of a Bartram student, applauds during a spirited meeting to discuss the recent violence at the school.
Posted: April 11, 2014

FRUSTRATED PARENTS and community members sounded off to school district officials last night during a raucous community meeting to discuss recent violence at Bartram High School.

About 200 people gathered in the school's auditorium, including several state and local elected officials. Many of them spoke out about the troubles, but there was little agreement on the cause of the problems or the solutions.

"It is a parent issue," Naeemah Felder, the parent of a recent Bartram graduate, told the crowd. "It will continue to be a parent issue unless [parents] step up."

The Rev. Darien Thomas, pastor of Walking in the Light Ministries, on Bartram and Island avenues, cited the lack of parental involvement, but said larger societal issues were at play. "You have people sending kids to school hungry. There's no jobs, job training."

Others speakers pointed to staffing cuts at the Southwest Philadelphia school and the turnover in district leadership. Some suggested mentoring for students or restoring art programs to keep students engaged.

Bartram has reported several violent incidents in the last three weeks, highlighted by a March 21 assault on a conflict-resolution specialist that left him unconscious. Students and staff said the school has been problem-plagued all year, with students brazenly roaming the hallways, smoking marijuana and coming and going as they please.

The meeting began with school officials laying out plans to resolve what the district calls the "climate" inside the school. Co-principal Ozzie Wright, who is officially retired but was brought in last week to help calm things, detailed several steps that have already been taken.

He said rules are being more strictly enforced, administrators are more visible in the hallways, school police have been added, smoke detectors have been installed in the bathrooms and alarms on the doors, and district facilities staff have painted and cleaned the building.

"Teachers are here to teach," Wright noted. "I haven't seen a teacher here yet that's afraid of a child."

Wright, a longtime district troubleshooter who has previously helped address problems at South Philly High and West Philly High, also said students and parents would be more involved. He said administrators have discussed holding assemblies at the request of students.

But school officials left little time to hear from speakers, which angered many in the crowd.

"I'm pissed off," said Milton Street, controversial former state senator and brother of former Mayor John Street. "I haven't heard anything in here that deals with the seriousness [of this issue]. . . . The way you're going to solve this problem is with these parents out here."

Superintendent William Hite said after the meeting that he was glad to see turnout and passion of community members. He said he's committed to giving the school whatever resources it needs to get back on track.

"Ozzie came in and we said, 'Look, whatever you need,' and he's given us a list of what he needs and we're providing that," Hite said. "And we're going to do what we can to provide what he thinks and what he believes he needs to address these issues."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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