About 40 parents, community activists and principals described schools in the Dunbar neighborhood in the bleakest and most desolate of terms yesterday -- but that only inspired them all the more to find ways to improve the schools.
Lombard Middle School has 830 students and two working computers, said Loretta Breese, principal there for the last 3 1/2 months. "We do not have any business partnerships. We have no equipment. We have two counselors," she said.
"We are fooling ourselves if we think we're educating them," Mrs. Breese said of the students.
Those meeting in the library at Dunbar Middle School were trying to bring about change in spite of the school system. They were there as part of a principals' assistance committee set up by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to circumvent a school system bureaucracy that is perceived to be too slow in reacting to appeals for help or offers of aid.
When one person suggested that the process ought to become part of standard school system operations, others disagreed. Frances Jolley, principal of Dunbar Middle, said such ideas had sat untouched in the school system for 20 years.
"It lies with us," she said. "My major concerns do not require anything from North Avenue [school headquarters.] What we have to do is become vigilant and visible. The powers and energy we need are right here."
The meeting yesterday was a planning session for a community conference to be held at the end of January or in early February, meant to begin developing neighborhood answers to the problems of the Dunbar-area schools, which include Dunbar High and Middle schools, Lombard Middle, and Thomas G. Hayes, City Springs and Charles Carroll of Carrollton elementaries.
Pauline Bruce, principal of Thomas G. Hayes, reported that parents of her students were furious about class size. "We still have fifth-grade classes with 38 and 39 children," she said. "The system knows it, and I've done all I can."
Mrs. Breese said it had been a shock to discover the condition of Lombard when she arrived from Dunbar High School. "I've never seen so many kids this high saying 'kiss my a--' or 'f--- ---,' " she said. "They're coming to school with baggage. If we don't shake that baggage, we're not educating them at all."
With about 100 students who are constantly disruptive, she said, her highest priority is discipline. "I need people in my building," she said. "I want black males to come into the building during the day and sit in the classrooms."
Mrs. Breese found no parent-teacher group when she arrived, and enlisted Ron Gibson, an energetic parent who wanted to help change the school. So far, they've been able to develop a seven-member organization.
"I was angry and enraged when I went through the school," Mr. Gibson said. "The bathrooms are the pits. My daughter can't take gym. I wish some of the $30,000-, $40,000- and $50,000-a-year people out there would get out of their leather chairs and come down and see what's going on."
And Elzee Gladden, principal of Dunbar High School, complained that he has resources but few children using them. He said he has more than $400,000 in foundation grants for educational programs that could be in jeopardy because Dunbar has only 700 students when it should have 1,200.
Dunbar is a citywide school devoted to health careers; students have to apply and are admitted on basis of test scores and school performance. "There's the middle-class myth that only Poly, Western and City College can provide an education," he said.
Again and again, the lack of recreation was mentioned as a severe problem, along with young parents who don't understand how to rear children.
Dr. Gladden said he was sick of seeing parents constantly yelling at children. "It's child abuse," he said, "and it's killing curiosity."
Janet Pinkett, a consultant who works in drug- and alcohol-abuse prevention, said, "If we have miseducated a generation of parents, we need to go back and give them what they need."
Again and again, the answers came back to getting parents to take advantage of agencies that already exist, to find ways to get parents into the schools to listen and talk to children.
"I work two jobs," Mr. Gibson said, "and I find the time to go over to the school for my daughter. That's what we have to do. We have to get parents there."