Baltimore school officials promised a "wonderful renaissance" for Northern High School last night, even as some parents and teachers expressed continued concerns over safety in and around the building.
At a town meeting in Northern's library, school system administrators pledged "laser attention" in reforming the Northeast Baltimore school, where a 15-year-old student suffered a near-fatal beating four weeks ago after getting off an MTA bus.
The system's chief academic officer, Cassandra W. Jones, said the recent violence has prompted the school system to speed up its plans for overhauling Northern, which was slated to be reformed with the city's eight other neighborhood high schools.
"It has accelerated it," she said of the incident. "This has laser attention for us right now."
Jones pledged to raise academic standards at the school, which has about 2,000 students, and addressed issues posed by parents ranging from Northern's policy on school uniforms to its elimination of the JROTC program.
The most heated moments came when a teacher took the floor to vent his frustration over safety.
"This school is off the hook, and you need to know it," Dudley Thompson, who is in his fourth year on Northern's faculty, shouted to the crowd, which included parents, students and fellow teachers.
"I am telling you that. Teachers can't teach here. Most of the kids are good, but because the administration doesn't take the right line and tolerates misbehavior, good kids can't learn. ... I am tired of it."
Thompson said one veteran teacher has reported being the victim of three assaults by students, but that nothing has been done.
"We only have the problems that we tolerate, and we've tolerated way too much," he said. "This school is not safe. I am telling you that."
In an interview after the meeting, Jones said officials have taken steps to address safety, and she insisted that the building is safe.
"I'm very comfortable in saying, `Yeah, the building is very safe and stable,'" she said.
The school has six additional hall monitors and more school police officers, and some students recently received "leadership training" in conflict resolution, she said.
An assistant principal, whose job will be to deal with safety and serve as a liaison to school police, will be added at the school, officials said.
But Jones told the crowd that more security isn't the only answer.
"If we don't change the culture and the attitudes, it's not going to make a difference," she said.
Repeated requests by The Sun to visit Northern during the school day have been denied, and teachers have said they have been told not to talk to the media about the situation there.
A parent-teacher organization was created at last night's meeting, and Aretha Allen, mother of a Northern 11th-grader, was elected president.
"I'm really concerned about the violence and the safety issues with the kids," she said. "They should feel safe when they come to school, when they're in school and when they leave."
Tammy Blevins, whose son is in the 10th grade, said she is more concerned about the school's academic program than about what she considers pockets of bad behavior.
"I've been up here and I don't feel that it's unsafe," said Blevins, vice president of the new PTO. She wants to make sure the curriculum meets the needs of all students.
"Get 'em ready for college, that's what it is," she said. "That's what they need to do."
Four youths have been arrested and charged as adults with attempted murder in the attack last month.