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Troubled Hartford School Showing Progress


May 26, 2010

Less than a month has passed since concerned parents at Rawson Elementary School publicly voiced concerns about violence, gang activity, drug and alcohol use and sexual activity inside their children's school. But in that short span of time, much has changed at the the Blue Hills neighborhood school.

On Wednesday, instead of a police cruiser overseeing student dismissal, an ice cream truck was parked near the school playground.

Students left the three-story, brick-and-glass building in an orderly mannner, and parents who came to pick up their children expressed thanks for the administration's quick response.

"Things are good. I just hope it remains when school reopens [in the fall]," said Dorette Barnett, who was picking up her son, a kindergartner. "It's just been different."

Barnett said having a full-time police presence in the building has been key, and that older students don't loiter in halls or in off-limits areas, such as the floors for the younger grades, nearly as much as they had.

"Right now they're on top of things," she said.

Some of the problems inside the school were attributed to the fact that older students in the pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade school had too much access to younger students, whom they could threaten, initmidate or even assault.

In addition to having a police officer stationed in the building, parents say that the parent-teacher organization has been providing frequent updates of the changes being put in place.

James Thompson, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, was called in, along with a response team of administrators, to help remedy the situation.

"My team is there every day," Thompson said Wednesday. He said communication among staff, parents and administrators has been a key to solving the problems at the school.

"It's going very well," he said. "We have less referrals and our students are engaged in learning."

School administrators also assigned a special principal to the school to handle the seventh and eighth grades, parents said. Detectives toured the school with the staff to show where students might try to hide from security.

The PTO has also reached out to parents who are having difficulty dealing with children with persistent discipline issues, and is planning to reward students next week who have been exhibiting good behavior. The PTO is also planning to celebrate the efforts by teachers and volunteers.

"It's quiet," said a parent who asked not to be identified. "It's not where we want it to be, but it's not where it was."

Parents said they could further improve conditions at the school by adding more security guards inside, surveillance cameras outside and by making sure that the sixth, seventh and eighth grades are securely separated from younger students.

They said they would be willing to trade off the full-time police officer for two more security guards to cover the school's entrances and exits, but added that they feel the board of education has been supportive.

As he left the school with his kindergartner son Wednesday, David Wright said it's apparent that the school has been more "orderly" and properly run" in recent weeks.

"I feel better now," he said. "This is a good school."

Parent Shauna Wright agreed, and said she appreciated the swift response after parents voiced their concerns. But Wright said she was still trying to get her son, a kindergartner, into another school next year that doesn't have seventh and eighth grade.

"I have an issue with some of the language the older kids use," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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