ST. PETERSBURG — As John Hopkins Middle School grew increasingly out of control, police and school district leaders failed to share an important piece of data: the number of students arrested on campus.
Police Chief Chuck Harmon and school superintendent Julie Janssen met Tuesday and said both sides accept blame for not sharing information that would have alerted them to the school's disciplinary crisis.
There were signs, Janssen said, but knowing there were more than 80 arrests at the school — twice that of any other city middle school —would have sounded the alarm.
"I think we both felt that one and the other were aware that things were bubbling up," she said, "and we found out that neither of us had been given any kind of alarm that something unusual was happening in one of our schools."
The school resource officer at each county school is required to report each month's arrest data to the district. But the lag time to replace a St. Petersburg police major led to the department's failure to share the last four months of arrests at all city schools.
"I think there's been some communication issues at both the school level and with my folks, and it's been rectified," Harmon said.
The district, though, should have known the data wasn't being turned over, Janssen said. "There's someone in our system who should have called to get those reports," she said.
The superintendent met with Harmon Tuesday after wrapping up a daylong School Board workshop, which included a discussion on chronically disruptive students — not only at John Hopkins but at other schools as well.
Two weeks ago, the board directed Janssen to find ways to more quickly remove them. The superintendent said those efforts are under way. So far, principals at three middle schools — Hopkins, Azalea and Bay Point — have provided lists of students they want removed, about 60 in all.
The district anticipates all of them will be reassigned by next week, either to alternative schools or to other programs in their current school. Other schools will be providing lists later.
But chronically disruptive students are not the only problem.
Board chairwoman Janet Clark said she sat in on classes at John Hopkins this week and got another angle on its problems.
Each class had no more than 15 or 20 students. But Clark said so many of them were causing low-level disruptions — getting out of seats, talking out of turn, complaining that reading two paragraphs was too much work — that even the best teacher would have trouble keeping order.
Clark told her story to fellow board members Tuesday, then made a pitch that a majority agreed with: Hopkins and other struggling schools need more resources and more bodies.
"Unless we're willing to put some more resources into it — whether it's time, energy or money — we won't get it to the point where we're really satisfied," said board member Carol Cook. "We'll constantly be kind of chasing it rather than on top of it."
Janssen said the district has tried to put more resources into struggling schools, but has been jammed by budget cuts. "We have not ignored these schools," she said.
She said help could come — if the board agrees to change how it divvies up its share of federal money for high-poverty schools. Pinellas currently uses tens of millions of dollars each year for elementary schools alone. But Janssen is recommending that middle and high schools get a slice, too.
"We have not had the extra money to do the extra things we need in middle and high schools," she said, and will present more details in a future workshop.
Clark was not the only board member who recently visited a middle school and was concerned about what they saw.
Robin Wikle spent time at Bay Point Middle — another school with a high number of disciplinary cases — and said she saw two guidance counselors in the hallway, transporting boxes.
"I want them counseling and guiding," she said, "not pushing boxes."
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.