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Strawberry Mansion profiled as one of 'America's most dangerous high schools'

By thenotebook on May 29, 2013 12:05 PM
Photo: C. Shonda Woods

Strawberry Mansion High School in North Philadelphia

by Mark McHugh

[Update 2: ABC has posted two stories, one a preview of the segment, and the other a first-hand account by a school English teacher.

[Update: The segment has been postponed again and is now scheduled for Thursday night at 6:30 p.m., and again on Nightline at 12:35 a.m.] 

Strawberry Mansion High School is about to gain national exposure as one of America's most dangerous high schools from ABC’s Diane Sawyer. A profile of the school will air tonight at 6:30 p.m. on World News With Diane Sawyer as part of its “Hidden America” series that sheds light on America’s neediest people and places. 

Strawberry Mansion, which regularly appears on the state's list of "persistently dangerous schools," has been designated for turnaround status and will become a Promise Academy in the fall. To get a glimpse of what life is like inside the school and how administrators plan to transform its environment, Sawyer talked to the school's principal, Linda Cliatt-Wayman.

Due to poor student performance and under-enrollment, the school was targeted for closure earlier this year, a decision that faced loud and vocal opposition from the community. Later, in a reversal, Superintendent William Hite spared the school from closing in what he said was a unique opportunity "to create schools with high-quality programs that will be an attraction to students who live in that area – and beyond."

Mark McHugh is an intern at the Notebook.

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Comments (24)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 13:42

Is it any wonder when they decided to send the boys from Fitzsimons to Strawberry Mansion??? Fitz and Mansion were never known to get along.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 19:05

For most of its history, wasn't Fitzsimons a middle school/junior high? Did it feed into Strawberry Mansion HS?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 19:23

Yes. btw you can read about the trouble Fitz had when it first started here: http://articles.philly.com/2006-02-26/news/25408968_1_victory-schools-st...

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 22:07

Thank you for the link. I didn't live in the Philadelphia area when Vallas was superintendent. Could someone explain who constituted the management teams at schools which had for-profit managers? Was it just the principal? The principal and assistant principal? Thanks for the clarification.

EGS

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 19:03

Isn't this old news? According to this article in the Inquirer, World News with Diane Sawyer already showed this profile of Strawberry Mansion HS as one of the nation's "most dangerous high schools" on May 16th: http://www.philly.com/philly/education/ABCs_Diane_Sawyer_to_broadcast_St....

I'll save my full judgments until tomorrow (although it will be on at the same time as the SRC meeting.) Profiles such as the one that World News will show can be negative, reinforcing stereotypes that high schools in the "inner city" with largely low-income, Black, and/or Latino/a student bodies are innately more dangerous or violent than high schools with mostly middle class, white, and/or Asian populations.

Labeling a high schools such as SMHS as one of "America's most dangerous high schools" obscures other issues related to resources and environment. Part of the reason why violence is higher in some schools is because of parenting/caregiving. Parents/caregivers who live in some neighborhoods teach their children to fight back because this is a survival skill. It's a vicious cycle because the violence/aggression tends to beget more violence and aggression. I have seen this first hand.

Dig deeper into the reasons for the aggression/violence and the use of aggression stems from deeper issues related to racism, poverty, distrust, and police brutality. Social scientific research has documented this. An example of a fantastic article about the roots of interpersonal violence is "The Code of the Streets" by Elijah Anderson: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/05/the-code-of-the-stre....

In addition to these deeper issues, budgetary constraints also influence school climate. Districts and charter schools with more resources can spend more on supports and personnel to handle the aggression that, in large amounts, can make a school dangerous.

The adults in a school can also make a difference. Adults who model proactive behavior, who treat students with basic respect, who help children/young adults develop strategies to cope with anger, contribute to building a positive school culture. Adults who work with students, reaching into their bag of tricks to try and find what works with individual students, and use restorative practices, help create positive school cultures. Adults who frequently yell and scream at kids, provide no consistent standards for conduct, tell students "I don't care if you come to school or not," rule with fear, and consistently speak and treat students disrespectfully create negative cultures, based on fear and distrust. Teaching in a comprehensive high school in Philadelphia is a very difficult task. However, there are excellent educators who do it the right way--provide high-quality instruction, are fair but firm, and respectful, while also holding students accountable. There are some students who will be aggressive regardless of almost anything you do. However, most students, when given consistent,high standards of conduct, reinforced and held accountable, and treated with respect, will treat adults with respect and do the right thing.

l will be anxious to see the issues on which World News focuses. Do they focus on what the adults are doing? Do they explore the cultural mores that exist in neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion, the mores that "The Code of the Streets" addresses? Do they raise the issue of budget cuts, which have reduced the number of adults in buildings, such as paraprofessionals who can staff a "cool down" room or deans who can handle behavior problems full-time. Or does the profile reinforce existing stereotypes about students of color from the "inner city?"

EGS

Submitted by Islandgirl (not verified) on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 20:50

Thank you for sharing your point of view on the matter. The questions you raise are keen observations and I hope ABC's presentation will touch on some of those issues. I will read "The Code of the Streets" as suggested.

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 22:12

EGS,

I noticed something similar with my students. Their parents might sometimes instruct their children, 4 and 5 years old to hit a bully back in class. I actually interrupted a parent who was lecturing his daughter for allowing another girl to 'get in her face' and the dad wanted to know why my student allowed it. I had to let the dad know that his daughter was doing what I expected in my classroom. To not hit but' use her words' and if that didn't stop the problem, let me, the teacher, handle it. I also emphasized to the dad that I would not tolerate my classroom being an unsafe place for my students, and while his little girl knew how to handle herself, but she also had learned other ways to resolve issues and that she knew that I would have her back in my room.

And the dad knows I mean what I say. I spent yesterday at the hospital with a my nose smashed from a student. But classrooms need to be a safe place for learning and I am the adult in the room. The culture of handling conflicts among students is an eye opening experience for me.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 23:34

MBA to M'Ed,

I take a very similar approach to yours. I tell students that the standards for resolving conflicts at school are different than what their parents/caregivers tell them to do at home or in their neighborhood. I understand that fighting back is a survival skill in some neighborhoods in Philadelphia. At the same time, I assert that aggression is not acceptable at school and that telling an adult or using words is the proper means for resolving conflicts. It's a constant battle, but I see the fruits of it because I'm teaching the children a new way of handling problems, one that makes for a safer learning environment.

EGS

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 19:59

"However, most students, when given consistent,high standards of conduct, reinforced and held accountable, and treated with respect, will treat adults with respect and do the right thing. " >>EGS

" I will be anxious to see the issues on which World News focuses. Do they focus on what the adults are doing? Do they explore the cultural mores that exist in neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion, the mores that "The Code of the Streets" addresses? " >>EGS

I am amazed that you still post this way EGS, you're talking to a group of people familiar with schools and teaching, so why the lessons and lectures? I worked at this "fine institution" and while it was no gem, one sentence stood out for me in this article: FOUR principals in FOUR years? Students know instability when they see it. Lois Mondesire wasn't the best principal nor was she the worst (test cheating aside) but she was a constant and there were some fine teachers (those who were left after her big purge).

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 23:28

Anonymous,

I do lecture. I need to work on this and I try to not be so preachy. What I said may seem to be common sense, but I currently work some colleagues who are veteran educators, but don't seem to get that respect is a two-way street. Yes, many children today can be disrespectful, but adults influence how children act. Deal with reality---kids are different today than they were 40 years ago. Instead of moaning about it, figure out a new way of dealing with children. Times change, children change, education changes, and educators have to evolve.

Regarding cultural mores and what adults are doing, these are important issues to raise. Education is big news right now and many people are reading this site to stay "in the know." Too often on television, stories focus on the surface issues without addressing the deeper issues. Discussing issues related to race and class are touchy and uncomfortable, but need addressing.

As for principal turnover, this is a major problem at many schools in the District. The question is, Why is there so much turnover at the top? Why are some schools able to have stable leadership while others have constant turnover? Is it luck of the draw, nepotism, the school culture, the community? Let's have an honest discussion about the culture of schools with high turnover. What are people's experiences? How does the community, teachers, staff members, parents, children, administrators, and District contribute to the high turnover. Don't just put it all on the District administration because there are factors "on the ground" that also matter. Then, What are the problems and potential solutions to high turnover?

EGS

Submitted by Elementary Principal (not verified) on Wed, 05/29/2013 - 22:56

According to the ABC News website, segment on Strawberry Mansion HS will air on Thursday, May 30th. It had previously been scheduled to air; however, with the recent episode of tornadoes, that story took precedence and pushed the airing of the Strawberry Mansion HS segment back.

It will be interesting to watch and to see how Linda Wayman describes her work there.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 22:08

Ah, yes, the tornadoes. The delay makes sense now. Thank you for the clarification.

EGS

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 22:08

Ah, yes, the tornadoes. The delay makes sense now. Thank you for the clarification.

EGS

Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 07:31

Took tornadoes to blow this nonsense off of the listing !!!GoooD !

MANUFATURED CONSENT !!! Story spread all across the nation ... I would like

to know how this nonsense was given the green light ... First you spread the

worst,then you give them a FOOTBALL team !...As the Audubon Society and

Outward create a Birdwatching center in the same East Park neighborhood...

NOW THAT is a "Hidden America" STORY !!! MANUFACTURED CONSENT !!

WE THE PEOPLE OF NORTH PHILLY SAY YES TO REAL EDUCATION FOR OUR CHILDREN,HELL NO TO NONsense!

Check out ,Vincent P. Franklin"The Education of Black Philadelphia."

This scam has been going on for a very long time!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 10:02

"Regarding cultural mores and what adults are doing, these are important issues to raise. Education is big news right now and many people are reading this site to stay "in the know." >EGS THIS IS A GIVEN

" As for principal turnover, this is a major problem at many schools in the District. The question is, Why is there so much turnover at the top? Why are some schools able to have stable leadership while others have constant turnover"? >EGS >> I would suggest that you TEACH FOR A FEW YEARS, read the news, and your question will be answered. You keep wanting to hear people's experiences and discuss things yet that's just what we're doing here. It's near impossible to know these things in your first few years.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 22:28

Anonymous,

With all due respect, in response to your assertion that I TEACH FOR A FEW YEARS, that's a fair point. At the same time, finding out about school climate and issues with turnover can be beneficial for one's career. In other words, if a young teacher is aware of the conditions that contribute to a school having high turnover, it may help him/her (a) select a school conducive to his/her early-career professional development or (b) be proactive in dealing with the conditions at a school with high turnover. I ask current colleagues about these issues, but it's nice to learn the perspectives of others as well.

Aside from the personal stake I just described, what's the hurt in discussing the factors that contribute to high turnover and eliciting various perspectives about the issue?

EGS

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 10:20

MBA- your stand is a good one., I've seen that myself too many times and in addition I don't like parents coming INTO the school to discipline their kids. I think teachers should bring this to the attention of the principal that a parent may not physically discipcline their children in school.

"I spent yesterday at the hospital with a my nose smashed from a student" > MBA

Welcome to the real world EGS, and when this kind of things happens you cannot stop to have a discussion on "cultural mores "in some neighborhoods. Do you know why and when our contract was changed to handle this kind of thing?

Submitted by Education Grad ... on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 22:27

Anonymous,

There's no reason to be snarky. I never said I stop and have a discussion. Quickly restating the expectation that children not fight to solve problems simply reminds them of the expectation for behavior at school.

With regard to your point about the contract being changed to handle this kind of thing, I'm interested to learn more details about this. Thanks.

EGS

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/31/2013 - 08:13

EGS, any questions you have about the contract should be directed at your building rep.

Submitted by the interlace condo (not verified) on Fri, 06/07/2013 - 08:00

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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 22:45

'EGS "At the same time, finding out about school climate and issues with turnover can be beneficial for one's career. In other words, if a young teacher is aware of the conditions that contribute to a school having high turnover, if may help him/her (a) select a school conducive to his/her early-career professional development ." > EGS

Sure, but what I notice is that you seem to want all the answers in a few tutorials and that's not how it works.It takes years to learn how things work and sometimes through expereinces of others. Even old timers don't know how things are going to play out now because even with the union so many things have changed. Luckily I didn't have to go through this ridiculous site selecton which helped me to cope with whatever situation came my way(for better or worse).

When I tell U that veteran teachers are down at the unemployment office you are incredulous as to why this is happening, and you wanted names and schools .WE DON'T DO THAT IN THIS SYSTEM and with any luck you'll find out why.

Submitted by Jimila (not verified) on Fri, 04/04/2014 - 17:48

I am sorry for your stress, but this is not the place to post this. Please remove it.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/04/2014 - 19:15

I agree Jimila

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