Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Crossland High has second most suspensions in county

Ranking based on 2006-07 data; school is ‘vastly different place’ now, principal says

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Crossland High School in Temple Hills is taking steps to curb violence and a high rate of suspensions by creating a safer environment where college preparation is the focus.

But numbers from the Maryland State Department of Education show Crossland is the second worst in Prince George’s County for the number of suspensions during the 2006-07 school year.

A Maryland State Department of Education report for the 2006-2007 school year ranks Crossland — with 1,800 students — second worst in the county with 1,182 total major category suspensions.

Major category suspensions include, by rule, possession of drugs, fighting, possession of a weapon, sex offenses and arson. The number includes both in-school and out-of-school suspensions.

Suitland High School is third in the county with 1,067 major category suspensions and 2,600 students. Surrattsville High School in Clinton, which has 997 students, posted 335 suspensions. And Gwynn Park High School, with 1,250 students, tallied 715 suspensions.

The numbers changed only slightly from the 2005-06 report, which listed Crossland with a county-high 1,927 suspensions. Surrattsville had 657 total major category suspensions and Gwynn Park High School had 534 suspensions.

John White, spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools, said steps have been taken since that report was filed to improve security and install more after school programs and AP courses in schools.

As a result, there has been a 9 percent drop in total security-related incidents across the county. There were 1,679 in the 2005-06 school year and 1,533 in the 2006-07 school year. Assault between students also dropped 7 percent from 234 to 217 incidents countywide, White said.

Principal Charles Thomas said Crossland is a vastly different place than it was three years ago.

‘‘Anybody who comes in will be able to see that,” Thomas said. ‘‘We have been successful in making it a safe haven from the neighborhoods.”

Thomas said that through academic initiatives and more after school activities, he is trying to make the school a place where students can feel safe and flourish.

At Suitland, Principal Mark Fossett said his school is taking measures to lower the rate of suspension.

One way is giving parents the opportunity to shadow his or her child rather than simply suspending the student.

Another option is Saturday school, where the student must attend school on the weekend.

‘‘It’s not like traditional detention,” Fossett said. ‘‘There is an academic element to it too. We make the students write reflective essays.”

Suspension rates for 2007-2008 have not been released, but Fossett said the rate is lower than it was at Suitland last year.

Bill Ritter, assistant superintendent for high schools in Prince George’s County Public Schools, said suspensions do not help the problem of violence in schools.

‘‘You can’t suspend your way out of this problem,” Ritter said.

Instead, White said getting students more involved in academics is a priority in stopping violence. Advanced placement and college level courses are priorities now.

And Crossland is offering more AP and other classes to prepare students for college.

‘‘Crossland’s students have greater access to college-level work than ever before,” White wrote in an e-mail. ‘‘When students are challenged and engaged in school, they are less likely to be distracted by less desirable activities.”

Ritter said Crossland High School had the second highest bump in advanced placement enrollment behind High Point High School in the 2006-07 school year.

Thomas said fostering a culture of achievement is incredibly important in getting students to excel.

‘‘The most important thing that determines what type of school you have is the culture of the school,” Thomas said.

All seniors must take a class called College Summit that teaches them to apply for college and how to pay for it. All students also must attend honor roll assemblies. Students who record a 4.0 grade point average receive a plaque.

‘‘We are trying to foster an academic environment where achievement is cool,” Thomas said.

Parent involvement also is important, according to White, because a lot of problems with violence start outside of the school.

‘‘Most disturbances occur outside of schools,” White said. ‘‘Students bring them into school.”

At every school in the county there is now a parent liaison to serve as a mode of communication between parents and the school. There also are student personnel workers who serve as counselors to at-risk students and their families.

‘‘[At Crossland] you get more support and engage in more positive thinking than you do in the neighborhood,” Thomas said.

White said school security teams also have been refined. There is now a sheriff’s deputy and several investigative counselors on site. Security personnel are present every day and interact with students on a regular basis to get to know them so information gathering is easier when an incident happens.

‘‘[The investigative counselors] get to know students and gather information,” White wrote in an e-mail. ‘‘[They] are able to prevent problems by establishing trusting relationships with students.”

Ritter said a good school environment is caring, safe and orderly.

‘‘Principal Thomas has done an excellent job with the safe and orderly, and the next step is to create a caring environment where students feel nurtured,” Ritter said.

E-mail Ryan McDermott at rmcdermott@gazette.net.