Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Gholson posts highest suspension rate

Administrators say numbers for the middle school are on the decline from 2006-2007

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After posting one of the county’s highest rates for middle school suspensions during the previous school year, G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover is on track for a reduction.

The ‘‘Maryland Public School Suspensions by School and Major Offense Category Combined In-School and Out-Of-School Suspensions 2006-2007” list posted on the state Department of Education Web site listed 867 suspensions for Gholson in the 2006-2007 school year. The second highest middle school suspension rate was Temple Hills’ Thurgood Marshall Middle School with 511.

Gholson’s number edged close to Riverdale’s Parkdale High School, which had the county’s fifth highest suspension rate at 889. The school with the highest overall suspension rate was Bladensburg High School, with 1,399 suspensions.

Gholson’s rate also soared above other central area middle schools such as Landover’s Kenmoor Middle School with 310, Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrollton with 155 and Walker Mill Middle School in Capitol Heights with 124 suspensions.

But Principal Jeffrey Parker, in his first year at the school after serving as an assistant principal at Hyattsville’s Nicholas Orem Middle School, said Gholson is cracking down on the suspension problem this year. Parker said the school currently has 280 suspensions and if it were on track to last year’s 867, would have close to 500 now. Parker said students typically are suspended from school for talking back to teachers, disrupting class and occasionally fighting.

‘‘Most of the time when these kids get in a fight it’s because, ‘ Someone bumped into me,’” Parker said. ‘‘There’s not any group fights or anything like that. Most of the fights the kids don’t even know each other.”

Parker attributed the reduction to after-school detentions, 8 a.m. to noon Saturday detentions and parent shadowing, where a parent attends class with the student for a day and monitors his or her behavior.

‘‘What you’re really trying to do is curtail behavior and you have to do that by letting students know there are consequences for their behaviors,” Parker said. ‘‘They really get that when they see their parents there.”

Parker said additional factors in maintaining discipline are stability in school administration and high levels of parent involvement. Parker, who is Gholson’s fourth principal in six years, said some parents are not willing to shadow their child or place them in Saturday detention.

‘‘You have a situation there where you don’t have any choice but to suspend a child,” Parker said. ‘‘You have to have some discipline. Otherwise you’ll have chaos.”

Parent liaison Charlotte Underwood said although there are some parents who never show up to the school on behalf of their child, others are over-committed, working two jobs or taking care of elderly parents while raising children at the same time.

‘‘We have had repeat issues with suspensions because of behavior problems, but it’s not because the parent won’t care or won’t come in, it’s because they need outside help,” Underwood said. ‘‘This particular environment might not be the best for them.”

Parent and Kentland resident Amanda Lowery said she was close to pulling her son, now an eighth-grader, out of Gholson after constantly hearing stories from him about the latest school fight, and said parents have been hesitant about sending their children to Gholson the past two to three years. But Lowery said the school has made a ‘‘huge turnaround” this year following Parker’s arrival and she rarely hears complaints from her son.

‘‘He’s not taking any mess,” Lowery said of Parker. ‘‘He’s keeping them in check. He has zero tolerance when it comes to anger and fighting and hitting and things like that.”

Parker said he is confident Gholson’s suspensions this year will not come anywhere close to last school year’s suspension total.

‘‘Some things just can’t be tolerated,” Parker said. ‘‘Disrespect. Cursing in front of the teacher. ‘F’ you or ‘F’ that. Way out of line. So you have to deal with those things, because if you don’t, you have a culture in a building where students feel they can say and do anything.”

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