A group of black community leaders visited John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg on Friday, saying they wanted to offer whatever help they could to a school that's been rocked by student discipline problems.
"I believe with the community interested in this problem, we can tackle this situation successfully," said Ray Tampa, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP.
Superintendent Julie Janssen attended the brief meeting, along with deputy superintendent Jim Madden and principal Claud Effiom.
Unless things change, Janssen said, "the long term effect is this is going to devastate this campus," she said. "There is significant damage control that we have to do."
Janssen a handful of other top district officials later met with Effiom. She said the district was putting together a plan to help Hopkins, with further details coming next week. She also said she will meet with Hopkins teachers next week.
Hopkins houses three magnet programs, has earned B grades from the state six years in a row and has been a model for voluntary integration efforts in Pinellas. But discipline problems have flared in recent years, including more than 60 student arrests this year. Effiom told the community leaders that the school averages 50 to 60 referrals a day.
"Oh my God," some of them murmured.
Effiom said there is no doubt changes must be made, but they need to be thoughtful. The Pinellas school board ordered Janssen this week to immediately come up with ways to more quickly remove chronically disruptive students from Hopkins and other schools.
Some people "want to tear it down and re-build it in a day," he said. But "those of us who work with these issues know it doesn't happen overnight."
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.