Violent Philly high school source of worry

Part 91 of 91 in the series Educating America

BARTRAM: Bartram High School has been the site of recent violence.

By Maura Pennington |

PHILADELPHIA — Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on school safety isn’t paying off at John Bartram High School in southwest Philadelphia.

The school has budgeted $349,000 for safety measures this academic year, but it’s done little to quell the violence.

“Police officers aren’t going to change this kind of culture of failure, where students have little hope. The school needs an overhaul in its education and management,” said Priya Abraham, senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank.

Violence has escalated at Bartram, drawing attention to some of the most disturbing consequences of a dysfunctional public school environment, where the average student attendance rate is 85 percent; the average teacher attendance, 93 percent.

On March 21, a 17 year-old student left unconscious a conflict-resolution specialist, whose role was to encourage a stable climate.

Six students were arrested the next week after a brawl in the cafeteria and the school was placed under lockdown.

Since the beginning of the school year, more than 30 serious incidents were reported at Bartram, including robberies and sexual assault.

There were 21 arrests in 2013, according to the School Safety report from the Pennsylvania Department of Education,

The School District of Philadelphia has responded by dispatching a former principal to assist administrators, hiring extra police officers and asking an independent organization — the International Institute for Restorative Practices — to intervene.

School security accounts for 1 percent of the district’s total spending, or $34 million.

Though Bartram has been a troubled school in the past — an assistant principal was shot there in 1999 — unrest grew this year, in particular because of the loss of a long-serving principal and a reduction in support staff.

Despite gradual improvement over the past decade, the school saw a sharp drop in its state standardized test scores in 2012. Only 10.9 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math, well below the districtwide average of 37.5 percent.

Chronic truancy and teacher vacancies have students roaming the halls and disrupting ongoing classes, reports say.

“Parents are desperate to get their kids … into better schools, and allowing such school choice would improve public schools overall, while throwing these kids a lifeline,” said Abraham.

The district scheduled a community meeting at Bartram on Thursday.

Contact Maura Pennington at and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.