PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Some teachers and police are saying they're concerned about a rise in discipline problems at Central Falls High School.
The school is in the beginning stages of a turnaround plan ordered by state officials, who have called it one of the worst schools in the state.
Lunchtime is a challenge at Central Falls High School. More than 800 teenagers have to move from classrooms to the cafeteria and then back to class. High school administrator Victor Capellan and the school's two principals try to keep the hallways calm.
"At every transition we make sure we go out into the halls moving students to the class they belong to," Capellan said. "You know you will have running in the hallways, getting to class late, but this will be the most activity you will see."
As Capellan reaches the end of a long hallway lined with blue lockers, a teacher alerts him to a problem - several students have been caught in a bathroom trying to cut class.
" We got like five of them in here, couple there a couple there," said Capellan. "Same guys wandering every period."
Capellan has a special staff person take the students to an in-school suspension room, where she will try to figure out why they are skipping class
Problems like this are a daily occurrence at Central Falls High School, and Capellan said he is keeping an eye on about 25 students.
There have been two or three fights since the start of school. As far as Capellan is concerned, it's par for the course in an urban public school.
"I think its normal activities in a high school. I don't think it's a building that's out of control," said Capellan. "I don't think it's a building that is unsafe."
Central Falls Police said they are concerned about the high school. Police logs reveal almost daily calls to the station and at least five student arrests. Two students' jaws were broken in separate incidents and two teachers have pressed charges against students for assault.
Police Chief Joe Moran said he has met more than once with school officials.
"If there is an increase of calls as there appears to be, well then we want to work with the school district, the students the teachers and things like," said Moran, that to come up with some viable solutions to make sure that we're not having so much involvement over at the school."
Some teachers describe students who swear at them and refuse to cooperate, and they said school administrators have not established a firm sense of discipline at the school this year. Senior Jonathan Osorio can testify to some of the bad behavior.
"Talking back to teachers, yelling in the halls when people are in class, slamming doors like its funny but it's really not," Osorio said.
In the cafeteria, Principal Evelyn Cosme-Jones is getting ready to dismiss about 100 students. She said the start of school has been tough at times.
"We see everything in this building. The question is not whether or not situations are happening. The question is what do we do to intervene on behalf of the student," said Jones. Jones was an assistant principal at the high school last year, but she said she can't tell whether the climate has improved or deteriorated since then.
"I was very much involved with the teaching and learning last year, going into common planning time and helping teachers, C. I was involved with students but not to the level where I could right now make a comparison," said Jones.
Teacher Kevin Drolette is also in the cafeteria eating lunch with a couple of students. Teachers are required to spend at least one lunch a week with students as part of the school's turnaround plan.
Drolette said, "I'm not worried. I do what I need to do, so I'm not really worried about it."
Central Falls Transformation Officer Victor Capellan said he is concerned about teacher turnover and what he calls a high teacher absentee rate. With four teachers on long term medical leave and eight to 10 calling in sick on an average day, Capellan said this may be contributing to the discipline problems.
"When you put that together and you get 15, 16 teachers out in a day, plus the number of new teachers that we had to hire, that's close to 30 classrooms where you have either a sub or a new teacher," Capellan said. "That's 30 people who may not have built a relationship with the students yet, may not have a behavior management plan yet."
Standing outside the school's new parent center, mother Therese McMaugh said she has no concerns about the safety of her daughter, but she shares Capellan's concern about vacancies in the teaching staff.
"My daughter just got her science teacher, so as a parent, you know, seven weeks later just getting a science teacher is a little concerning," said McMaugh. "I don't think she's learned as much as she could have."
Some teachers complain that the district has ended many afterschool programs, making it harder to keep students engaged. Administrators insist this is temporary.
18-year-old Willy Brotherton stands on the High School lawn with a basketball under one arm and squints up at the large brick school building.
"I know everybody's worried about everybody getting hurt or whatever but its nothing to worry about. It's only Central Falls," Brotherton said.
The image of an inner city high school plagued by crime and poverty is something Central Falls officials are hoping to rise above. But their task may be further complicated by a staff that was largely demoralized by the threat of mass firings earlier this year. Administrators said they will take steps to tighten discipline. Their job, they say, is to change things are not working.
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