Amprey vows to restore 'breakthrough teams' to reduce violence

January 25, 1995|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

Schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey admitted yesterday that it was a mistake to get rid of "breakthrough teams" that patrolled city high schools in an effort to circumvent violent incidents.

The teams sought to counsel suspected gang members and other youngsters most likely to become violent.

Dr. Amprey made the observation while discussing the fatal shooting of one young man and the wounding of another Monday at Northern High School. The shooting occurred in front of the school as classes had ended and students were streaming out of the building.

Elijah Jermaine Young, 22, of the 400 block of E. Cold Spring Lane, was pronounced dead at the scene. Walter Gerald Ferguson, 21, of the 3600 block of Monterey Road, was listed in critical but stable condition last night at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Police were searching for a suspect -- Maurice M. Dickens, 21, of the 5700 block of Maplehill Road, who was charged in a warrant with first-degree murder.

"We have a breakthrough team going back into Northern High School and I am also asking that a breakthrough team be again assigned to Southwestern High School, which is another area where we have reason to believe there are some growing concerns," Dr. Amprey said.

School system spokesman Nat Harrington described the teams as groups of two to five people -- usually men from the community who have a rapport with teen-agers -- who can go into the schools and talk to boys about their behavior.

"We're seeing the behavior on the part of girls, too, but we're seeing the boys being the most problematic," Mr. Harrington said.

Dr. Amprey said the city's high schools all had breakthrough teams last academic year, but under the system's new "enterprise schools," individual principals were allowed to decide whether to continue the programs this year. None did.

"We shifted a very large amount of dollars to the schools for the operation of this school year, about $32 million. Included with that was the assumption that if schools wanted to continue the breakthrough teams, then they would use some of the dollars for that purpose. It didn't happen," Dr. Amprey said.

Linda Prudente, spokeswoman for the Baltimore teachers union, said the schools likely didn't understand they had the option to continue the breakthrough teams. "The schools don't understand entirely the enterprise schools process," she said.

Dr. Amprey said he didn't know where the money would come from to hire the breakthrough team members, but he would find it. He also said he was considering moving suspected gang members to schools in their own neighborhoods to reduce the possibility of turf fights.

"There definitely needs to be a move to remove from our schools some of the key, hard-core gang members and gang leaders that we think are there who are so imbued with this loyalty to each other and animosity toward other gangs that it's better for their actions to be diffused than to have them at their zoned schools," he said.

Ms. Prudente said it was good to hear Dr. Amprey making such strong statements because she didn't believe he had taken a tough enough stance against school violence. "He needs to come down very strong and hard and say we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior," she said.

School officials had considered canceling last night's basketball game between Northwestern and Northern because of the shooting incident, but it was allowed to go on without spectators. Some parents were allowed to attend; Northern won 74-72.

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