From the outset, I want to make it clear that violence does not have a place at any school.
Period. As most of the readers of this section will undoubtedly have a handle on the parent, student and community member perspective of school violence, I would like to share with you one high school principal’s perspective. Just as undoubtedly, this is a rather new perspective for me to have, as this is my first year as principal. I am sure that my perspective will change, and in truth, it better, or how else can I ask my students to learn?
With that said, I do have some understanding of the topic. From personal experiences in high school growing up in the Seattle area, to living a couple of years in southcentral Los Angeles, to also living in the Boston and Phoenix areas, I have been in violent and difficult situations. This is not to say that I am impervious to or desensitized to violence, much less school violence. I am not. But what I do recognize, like other school principals, is the simple truth: People make unwise decisions and unfortunate situations occur. Putting 2,000 or so kids in one location and asking and expecting them to behave works. Most of the time. I would say the overwhelming amount of the time it works. For nice round numbers, let’s say that a school has 2,000 students in a six-period day. From the morning until after school there are eight times during the day that 2,000 students are free to move about the campus. That is 16,000 location changes per day. Multiply that by 180 days and we begin to see the complexity of a comprehensive high school. The number of discipline problems that we face is very minimal in relation to the possible problems we could have. Let’s celebrate the good kids and most of the knuckleheads that are trying to get better.
Speaking of knuckleheads, we have them, too. Take that 2,000-student high school again. Even if 99.5 percent of those students are rule abiding citizens on any given day, that leaves 10 students that might give the school grief, if not also a bad name. So what do we do? Do we simply put our heads in the sand and hope that the .5 percent doesn’t do something too bad? Of course not. We must plan and work so events don’t happen (prevention) and, if they do, plan for what actions to take (reaction).
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Prevention plans must focus on bringing the not-so-good student in line with the good student. We do this through positive peer pressure via word of mouth, setting culture and expectations, and instituting programs that will help students speak up if they are being bullied or if they know of a situation that needs to be stopped. RHS will be piloting such a program this last quarter as we look forward to next year.
Learning from this year, and to go along with our already strict rules regarding violence at school, the program also will entail new understanding and guidelines (read: consequences) for students who do not speak up with information regarding possible violent situations.
If something does happen, teachers, staff and administration, working with the police department, need to have a clear plan and expectations for what steps to take to keep people safe. Since the December gun incident at Richland High School, we have improved upon our plan and set down clear procedures to keep students and staff safe — and we practice this plan and procedures through drills. Prevention and reaction plans must work hand-in-hand to be effective.
This has been just one (new) high school principal’s perspective. Speaking for my staff and myself, this has been a trying year. In reality, we have grown, just like I would expect my students to do.
* Gordon Comfort is the principal at Richland High School. He is married with three children, almost four.