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Article of Interest - Discipline

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Bridges4Kids LogoPrincipal Apple of His Eye
by Joe Williams, New York Daily news, January 7, 2004

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It didn't take an army of cops to turn around troubled Hillcrest High School in Queens. It took a tough principal.


One day after announcing plans to flood the city's 12 most dangerous schools with more police, Chancellor Joel Klein made a surprise visit to the Jamaica school that just two years ago was one of the most violent in the city.

The drop-in was designed to show that Klein thinks principals, not cops, are ultimately responsible for the safety in their schools.

"Once the kids know what is expected of them, you don't really need the extra [police] manpower," said Principal Stephen Duch.

Major violent incidents at Hillcrest dropped from 15 in 2001-02 to four in 2002-03 to none so far this school year, even though the school now has fewer safety agents than it did last year.

Klein said he wants to use Hillcrest as an example for improving safety over the long haul.

Change at Hillcrest didn't happen overnight. Duch, who took over in 1996, said it took him six years to alter the school's culture. Enforcing rules, convincing parents of the importance of discipline and improving teaching to keep kids interested were key to the turnaround, Duch said.

"Learning has been more interesting. Students don't feel like cutting anymore," said junior Carlos Cortez.

Among the get-tough rules at Hillcrest are:

  • All students must carry their jackets all day instead of stowing them in gym locker rooms that erupted in chaos at every ring of the school bell.

  • Anyone committing a low-level offense gets sent straight to after-school suspension.

  • Troublemakers also can find themselves in a "principal's suspension," which runs every day from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

  • Every student goes through metal detectors, and bags are scanned on the way in. The school opens earlier so kids don't have to wait in line, where trouble often starts.

Duch and others said the most important crackdown was keeping kids out of the hallways. Between 25 and 30 loiterers are rounded up every day.

And the change also gives teachers five to 10 minutes of extra instruction every class period - which can add up to almost an hour a week - because kids are in their seats when the bell rings.

"No one is allowed to hang out in the hallway anymore," senior Victoria Davis told Klein. "I feel safe in my school now."

    

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