Thursday, March 29, 2012
Security Keeping Schools Quiet

New security measures, including more police assigned to the schools and more staff walking the halls, have restored order to Randolph High School following a spate of violent incidents, according to school officials and police.

“Things are going very well now,’’ said Randolph School Superintendent Oscar Santos. “We are making sure there are more adults around when students are changing classes. It’s all hands on deck.’’

The Randolph Police Department, which had previously assigned one officer to the high school, added a second officer in the last two weeks. The department also assigned an officer to Randolph Community Middle School, which had not had a regularly assigned officer.

“We are seeing early positive signs,’’ said Randolph Police Chief William Pace. “Things seem to be more orderly now.’’

School officials reported last week that there had been a series of incidents this year, most of them involving students fighting and teachers trying to break up fights. A female teacher was taken to a local hospital on March 13 after being injured trying to stop a fight.

Santos said the teacher is fine now and has returned to the classroom.

The problem of violence at the 800-student high school was aired at a series of recent meetings, which included assemblies for each of the grades at Randolph High and a public forum for parents and members of the community.

The trouble at the high school follows a period of government and education reform in Randolph, in which new leadership was hired and funding for the schools was increased significantly. In a 2008 local referendum, Randolph voters approved a 16 percent increase in property taxes, which boosted school spending by $5.5 million and increased other departments’ budgets by more than $600,000.

Before the Proposition 2 1/2 override was passed, state education officials had threatened to put the Randolph schools into state receivership because of inadequate financial support and declining student test scores. The schools’ financial woes coincided with what appeared to be a surge in youth violence in the town.

In the summer of 2007, a 17-year-old was shot to death in front of a gas station on heavily traveled North Main Street. Police attributed the killing to gangs, which also were suspected of playing a role in a nonfatal stabbing a week earlier.

Officials today say that the town and its schools have moved well beyond the troubles of five years ago. The School Department no longer faces state sanctions, and test scores have improved. With the increased school funding and more teacher hiring, the student-teacher ratio is 12.5 to 1, below the state average.

Randolph High School’s run-down athletic facilities are getting a major upgrade, including a new football field and improvements to the school’s swimming pool.

“There has been some higher-profile bad news about Randolph lately, but I do think there are a lot of good things happening in Randolph, including the schools,’’ said state Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat who represents the town.

Joyce said he was encouraged by the response of school officials and parents to the recent problems. “There is a more engaged community and a more hands-on administration,’’ he said.

The Randolph schools do confront challenges that are different from those faced by most other area suburbs. For 42 percent of Randolph High School students, English is not their first language, and 51 percent are classified as low-income.

The racial mix of students at the high school is unusual for a suburban town. According to state data for the current school year, 58 percent of students are African-American, 19 percent Asian, 8 percent Hispanic, and just under 14 percent are white.

School and law enforcement officials have taken measures to encourage Randolph students to succeed in school and to stay out of trouble.

Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey’s office organizes a lunch series, at which young professional women meet with teenage girls in Randolph. Working with the Randolph schools and nonprofit groups, the office also sponsors programs aimed at preventing dating violence and underage drinking.

“We are trying to send the message to kids that they should make the right choices and there are consequences to their actions,’’ Morrissey said.

School officials said some of the recent problems at the high school occurred because students spent too much time in the hallways between classes. The increased staff presence will help to prevent problems in the hallways, officials said.

“We are making sure that students are getting to their classes on time,’’ said Monica Roberts, director of family and community relations for the Randolph schools.

Robert Preer