'Cry for help' at Northern High Mass expulsions: Blame for discipline problems goes far beyond overwhelmed principal.

November 22, 1997

TWO YEARS AGO the principal at violence-rocked Northern High School was abruptly replaced by Alice Morgan Brown because then-superintendent Walter G. Amprey said she "is particularly adept in the area of student relations." Ms. Brown suspended two-thirds of her students Wednesday because they ignored her pleas to return to their classes. Did he say "adept"?

Ms. Brown said she suspended the students as a "cry for help" to gain control of a school where even other students complain about the number of people wandering the halls. She says she sends loiterers to class only to see them in the corridors again minutes later. Her teachers obviously prefer troublemakers walk the halls rather than disrupt class.

Ms. Brown doesn't need help. She needs to be replaced. Maybe the school system should send in a team of disciplinarians to restore order. Ms. Brown isn't capable. Her blanket suspension has alienated parents she needs help from to improve student behavior.

Discipline is a problem at many if not most Baltimore schools, but Northern High has presented particular concerns. The 1996-97 school year began with a 14-year-old girl being raped in a bathroom in September. By May, there was still disarray, with young toughs firing gunshots in the hall at a school police officer.

The first day of school this year saw kids wandering the halls instead of attending classes and teachers not knowing what classes they were supposed to teach.

Ms. Brown did make a valid point in declaring education is a job for "everyone, including parents." The open defiance of Ms. Brown's order to return to class reflects a disregard for the authority of a principal, any principal, that is troubling. It suggests children whose parents have not taught them to respect teachers, parents who do not work with teachers to make sure their children get a good education.

That type of positive interaction between parents and children and teachers and principals can be found at any successful school in any neighborhood. But you need someone to be the catalyst for that type of communication. Northern High is going in the opposite direction right now. It needs better leadership than it has had if it is ever going to shake past problems of violence. It needs that leadership now.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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