A Homeland Security teacher's take on my story
I just received this letter from a teacher at Homeland Security Academy in response to my article today:
As a teacher at Homeland Security Academy, I am writing to correct the sense of the article by Sara Neufeld in this morning’s Sun, “Alonso urges students to transfer….” While many of the discrete facts recited in the article are true, the arrangement leaves the completely inaccurate impression that the school’s administration and faculty sat on our collective hands, allowing the situation to “…spiral further out of control…” until the saving grace of North Avenue appeared to end the madness. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Arnetta Rudisill is and was during her tenure at this school a driven, powerful woman with a firm sense of mission for this school, its students and faculty. Despite being limited in mobility from a serious ankle injury, she was a constant and consistent force in the building. She encouraged faculty and students both to pursue excellence and, at the same time, strove to control and to eliminate gang activity, vandalism, truancy and violence. Many of us on the faculty worked with her to the degree of our own skills, balancing teaching planning and preparation with police work.
Homeland Security was a repository for students from around the city who had shown their inability or unwillingness to conform to the requirements of other schools. Students routinely walk out of class, walk out of the building and back in, disregard legitimate directions from teachers. They do so in the sure and certain knowledge that there are no meaningful sanctions awaiting their misbehavior.
North Avenue has directed that all suspensions of any students must be cleared and authorized through its offices. Many of our students, otherwise inclined to work and study, see their fellows tossed from a class for grossly disrespectful or other disruptive behavior and immediately returned to the class without any meaningful sanction whatsoever. They quickly learn the underlying lesson; there is no rule which they must obey.
Numerous factual errors persist in the article. Homeland Security has a wide array and large number of afterschool activities, including two that actually pay students to participate. Many of my students have told me that they would like to participate but that they fear for their safety. That fear is not within the building but waiting for the bus on the meanest of gang-ridden streets. The ‘crime scene tape’ reported was to deter student from using the main building entrance while the outer steps were being demolished and rebuilt. The only crime involved was that the deterioration of the stairs had gotten as far as it did, a North Avenue issue, not within Ms Rudisill’s control.
Homeland’s administration, specifically Ms Rudisill, requested additional resources from North Avenue to assist with hallway control, gang prevention and other issues of atmosphere and tone. Many members of the faculty, this writer included, wonder whether the situation would have deteriorated to its present level had those requests been honored in September, rather than being withheld until the crisis crested.
The article observes that five principals have gone through this school in four years. What more evidence of a critical problem did North Avenue need? Why did the city’s schools administration not account for the fact that with so many troublesome apples in one basket the basket required enormous if expensive oversight?
In the opinion of this writer, far too much blame for the faculty and building administration has issued from North Avenue and far too little support. Are we all perfect? Far from it; and we know it and work diligently to improve our skills. Have we received, as a school, the support needed to correct serious problems? No. In whose hands was the control of that support? Clearly, not ours.