KYW Regional Affairs Council

“Class Action:
Making Schools Safe”


By Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There is a new atmosphere at one Philadelphia high school.

Before she got to Simon Gratz High, senior Faith Sawyer (below left) says she heard about the routine violence there:

“I had friends that were saying, like, the fights are crazy, (that) it’s just normal.  And I just didn’t want to be near an environment like that. ”


(Gratz High School seniors Faith Sawyer and Dane Washington. Credit: Mike DeNardo)


Two years ago, Gratz High had a rate of 6.8 violent incidents per 100 students.

But now, in its second year run by Mastery Charter Schools, the rate of violent episodes at Gratz has dropped 72 percent.

Fellow senior Dane Washington has noticed.

“It’s just, like, a lot safer now,” he tells KYW Newsradio.  “You don’t have to worry about seeing people fighting or worry about one of your friends getting hurt.”

But one woman who says she pulled her son out of Gratz this year has her doubts.

“The first thing you see is a police car parked in the front?  They’re going to be violent,” she says of the students there.  “You’re not giving the kids no hope.”

Still, Gratz was just removed from the state’s list of “persistently dangerous schools” (see related story).   What changed? Principal LaQuanda Jackson says students are buying in to the concept that adults aren’t letting infractions slide anymore.

Gratz High principal LaQuanda Jackson. Credit: Mike DeNardo)

“In addition to those high expectations, you have to have an environment where the entire school community works together,” Jackson (right) tells KYW Newsradio.  “It can’t be that teachers are saying one thing, administrators are saying another.  So with those high expectations you also have to have high support.”

And perhaps the most tangible sign of progress is that at the separate entrance for Gratz ninth graders, there is no longer a metal detector.


Listen to Part 3…