Taking a cue on discipline

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Outgoing CEO Ron Huberman has sent the message that neighborhood school principals should stop complaining about problem students from charter schools. That message appears to be sinking in: Some principals at traditional neighborhood schools are now thinking about ways they can emulate charters on discipline.

At Robeson High in Englewood, Principal Gerald Morrow used to grumble about the students coming from Urban Prep Academy Charter, as well as those sent to him from Harper High School, a turnaround school. This year, a new Noble Street charter campus opened in Englewood, not far from Robeson.

But at the beginning of the year, Morrow declined to say much about the issue, except to say that the influx of students has ebbed a bit. When students do transfer in, Morrow tries to make the transition seamless, by calling to talk with principals when one of their former students shows up.

“When it comes down to it, we are a school for all students,” he says.

Morrow says he and other principals who received money from Huberman’s “culture of calm” initiative toured charters to see what they are doing to instill order. Now, he’s using what he learned to try to foster a better enviroment at Robeseon.

For example, the school now requires students to wear uniforms and has banned cell phones. “We are enforcing it from Day 1,” Morrow says. “It is a non-negotiable.”

At Wells Community Academy, school advocate Georgina Williams agrees that charging students for demerits—like Noble Street does—forces them to take behavior more seriously.

Even so, Williams is not in favor of the practice, fearing that it would discourage low-income students from coming to school. She notes cases in which students have transferred to Wells from Noble Street because they owe the charter school hundreds of dollars and are on payment plans.

Williams estimates that about 20 percent of students who transfer into Wells are from charters. Three Noble Street campuses and a charter high school run by Aspira are within a mile of Wells, which is in West Town.

(Michael Milkie, co-founder of Noble Street, confirms that about 10 to 20 percent of families at each campus are on payment plans.)

Wells Principal Ernesto Matias says his school must accommodate all students and can’t just put out those who don’t follow rules and regulations.

“Our neighborhood schools are becoming like neighborhood hospitals,” he says. “We have to be equipped and proactive at all times.”

Matias is proud that he has brought more order to Wells in the three years since he arrived. The environment has become calmer because staff members have shown students that they care about them, not because of punitive measures, he says.

Competition from charter schools, he notes, has forced neighborhood high schools, including Wells, to try to improve.