Confessions of an Urban Principal/”The Meanest Streets.”
by Frank Murphy
Installment 8 of 9
One of Senator Kitchen’s aides called to inform me that she is scheduled to meet with Vallas at four o’clock this afternoon. I tried to contact her. She needed an update on the most recent developments regarding the management of my school. The letter that the senator had requested from the president of Temple University, had just arrived. John had written it on behalf of his employer. In it, he stated it was the desire of the University’s president that I continue on as the principal of Meade School. This would have been good news if the district weren’t planning on reassuming control of the school.
Throughout the day, I engaged several students in discreet conversations. I was purposeful in my selection, seeking out those kids who always know what is going on in the neighborhood. From them, I learned the identities of four of the intruders from the other day. My sources told me that the trespassers were members of the Gratz Street Mafia. All four were enrolled in disciplinary schools. Two of them had been sent to alternative schools upon my recommendation. They came into the school in order to jump Luis.
I realized that this was a problem that was far from being resolved. The outsiders would be back. They were on a mission. I needed help in order to prevent future attempts to attack Luis. I didn’t bother trying to reach my district regional office for assistance. They seldom ever responded to requests for assistance. Instead, I contacted the captain of the local police district. When I headed out to the yard at dismissal, I found two of the intruders had already gained entrance to the school. A fourth grade girl had opened a door for them. I chased them back outside. They retreated to the far end of the yard. From that location, they shouted obscenities in my direction.
When the police arrived, these boys took off running. I was grateful that I had contacted the captain. He sent five police officers to assist me.
The front page of the Sunday edition of the Inquirer had two articles that caught my attention. The lead article’s headline read “Shootings Ravage City Neighborhoods.” It was the first installment of a series titled “The Meanest Streets.”
The second article was carried at the bottom of the front page. Its headline read, “Schools Under Assault from Parents.” It reported that as of February 28th, there have been fifty-seven attacks on school employees (several of them principals) by parents or other adults. Nearly two hundred threats have been recorded so far this school year.
The hottest news stories of the last few months have been focused on the violent tales of our city. Murder and mayhem are indiscriminately stalking our streets, according to the journalists who are telling this story. As stated in one report from the Inquirer, “More than four people a day are shot in our city. Most of these shootings take place in a few notorious areas. But no one seems to be able to do much about it.” This article included graphs and maps that visually illustrated the last three years worth of information concerning shooting incidents in the city. One pie chart identified seventy-eight percent of the victims as being black males. Another graph showed that fifty percent of the victims were under the age of twenty-five and mostly black.
Accompanying the article was a large map of the city, pinpointing the three main “hot zones” of violence. The number of shootings in these areas ranged from 601 to 727 shootings per square mile over a three-year period. Many of these incidents have resulted in the death of the victim. The entire Meade School attendance boundary is situated inside of one of these killing fields. Using the information from this news article, I counted that sixty-two of those shootings had taken place within close proximity to my school during this period.
A brief reference was made in the report to the cycle of despair and violence that dominates the social activities of our community. Poverty, drug dealing, dysfunctional families and the glamorization of narcotics and gunplay were all listed as possible causes for this epidemic of deadly violence. It occurred to me as I read this article that it is describing a likely future for some of my boys. Sadly, it seems that too many young men in my community are seeking status and respect by those most deadly of fashions. For them, the street culture of gunman thug is the path they have chosen to follow to manhood. And it is a short-lived manhood at that. I wonder how long it will be before some of my troubled boys have a gun in their hands.
The article also referenced a program that offered intensive supervision, counseling, remedial education and job placement assistance for at-risk youth. This program had been implemented in a few city neighborhoods. There were early indications that youth shootings and homicides had dropped in these areas. Unfortunately, a lack of funds had curtailed a plan to expand these services into the Meade community. The youth who won’t benefit from these enhanced social services are truly those children who are being left behind. Among those abandoned, were the boys running through our third floor hallway the other day.
Mr.Vallas is quoted in the article. He said. “The district is taking steps that could help avert parental violence and disruption. This month, we received a $746,000 grant from William Penn Foundation in order to set up parent leadership academies.”
I don’t have much confidence in the ability of the Vallas administration to recruit parents who are positive forces in their school communities.
I have been a witness to the pandering of his staff. They give to much credit to the unreasonable accusations of people like Christie Sims and Judith Wilson. I think that it is likely that the people who create much of the havoc in our school communities will be empowered to cause even more confusion as participants in the Vallas-designed parent leadership academies. I could easily envision these academies filled with Sims and Wilson types.