Totals for 2007-08
Districtwide — 16 high schools: 23,553 Lakewood High: 1,378
Top five reasons for in-school suspensions
Lack of cooperation3,007
Lack of cooperation326
The Pinellas County School District tracks out-of-school suspensions on a semester basis. Districtwide as well as at Lakewood High, out-of-school suspensions for the first semester of this school year were higher than the first semester of the 2007-08 academic year.
Districtwide 3,976 5,111
Lakewood 186 239
Each year, the district conducts a "climate survey" in which teachers are asked the extent to which they agree or disagree with statements about their schools. In each of the past three years, staffers at Lakewood were far less likely than their peers at other schools to agree or strongly agree that "an atmosphere of respect, trust and pride toward adults exists at this school." Here are the percentages who agreed or strongly agreed with that statement:
Districtwide 62% 60% 63%
Lakewood 32% 20% 37%
Source of all data above: Pinellas County School District
Lakewood High School's campus is nearly as familiar to Shannon Miller as her own living room.
Miller, 37, attended the school at Pinellas County's southernmost tip in the '80s. Her mom went there in the '60s.
Now, Miller's daughter Amber is a senior in Lakewood's new environmental technology program. But Miller isn't so sure she'd send her younger daughter, Hanna, there.
Miller, who is white, says her hesitation has nothing to do with School Board member Mary Brown's recent comment that white teachers feel intimidated by black students in south Pinellas schools. It doesn't bother her that Lakewood's African-American population has increased 13 percentage points since the district lifted its cap on black student enrollment four years ago.
For Miller, it's all about discipline — or the lack of it.
While Amber is able to stand up for herself, Hanna isn't as tough. Miller worries about her entering the rough-and-tumble environment of any large Pinellas high school unless she learns to be more aggressive.
"There's no respect for authority today," she said. "When I was growing up, things weren't like this."
• • •
Pinellas school officials acknowledge that student behavior is an issue, but they say they're working hard on new ways to tame unruly students.
Early in the school year, the two directors of school operations for high schools meet with each principal to identify goals based on data. One school might choose to reduce its number of referrals for defiance and insubordination, for example, while another might decide to reduce its out-of-school suspension rate.
The district gives each school leeway to choose a discipline program it thinks will work best. Some schools, including Countryside High, have ninth-grade learning communities that help kids transition from middle school. Several others, including Dixie Hollins High, have adopted a program called Positive Behavior Support that concentrates on preventing unwanted behaviors and building relationships.
At Lakewood, where in-school suspensions topped 1,378 last year, administrators decided to adopt a detention program that requires kids who are repeatedly defiant or disrespectful to stay on campus until as late as 6 p.m. under the supervision of two classroom teachers.
Concern over a high number of referrals — 3,100 in 2007-08 — led Lakewood officials to begin requiring teachers to contact parents when kids commit less serious offenses like being tardy and using obscene language.
But school principal Dennis Duda says there's more to it than enforcing rules. It's easy to punish, Duda says. What he's looking for is a change in behavior.
• • •
Duda, who has been principal at Lakewood for four years, makes it a point to be visible on campus. During class changes, he stands in the school's hub, checking for dress code violations and electronic devices.
He requires teachers to be visible as well, stationing them at classroom doors to curtail any rowdy behavior before it has a chance to come inside with the students.
When the final bell rings, all doors are shut and locked, forcing students to knock to get in. Duda says the practice has reduced tardiness considerably.
He likes the fact that most of the school's 1,575 students live in the area, which has a long-standing reputation for being economically and culturally diverse.
And despite a decrease in diversity among the student population, he thinks the return to a neighborhood school system has been good for Lakewood, knitting the community together and increasing the opportunity for parental involvement.
Many Lakewood teachers agree, including Chantella Moore, a Lakewood alum who teaches health and PE and lives two stoplights from the school.
"I grew up with most of my students' parents and grandparents," Moore said. "I see them buying groceries, pumping gas."
A quick word with a parent or guardian, whether it's over the phone or at Bible study, works wonders when it comes to student discipline, Moore said.
Pat Schley, who transferred to Lakewood this year after seven years at Riviera Middle School, said it took her a while to warm up to the idea of contacting parents before writing referrals. Now, Schley says, she sees that involving parents in student discipline gets better results than merely sending a child to the principal's office.
"Giving consequences only changes behavior for a day or two," she said.
Deb Fabrizio, a Lakewood assistant principal who is in charge of discipline, says the proof is the data: Referrals are down 43 percent since teachers began calling parents before automatically picking up a pen.
"The parent contact makes a big difference," Fabrizio said. "Most kids don't want Mom and Dad called."
• • •
Yet discipline issues persist at Lakewood. Those who are closest to them — the students — say that bullying, rudeness and disrespect toward teachers and other students is a way of life.
They know from talking to their friends at other schools that it's not unique to Lakewood. Contrary to recent allegations, they don't think it's racially motivated. And unlike their elders, they don't seem overly concerned about it.
Senior class president Mhariel Summers, 18, who is black, said she has never felt threatened by another student, but she knows whom to stay away from.
"No one is here to harm anybody unless it's over revenge," Summers said. "You don't have to worry about anything if you mind your own business. If you bark up the wrong tree, you'll have problems."
Dan Mills, 16, said he has been bullied off and on in the two years he has been at Lakewood, but he has never felt afraid.
"I know to go see the school resource officer if anything happens," said Mills, who is the only white student in at least one of his classes. "If you stand up for yourself, no one messes with you."
Meanwhile, Lakewood administrators continue to test strategies, hoping they'll hit on a formula that will further reduce suspensions and referrals and promote a more civil environment.
Duda, the principal, admits that he sometimes takes an unorthodox approach to discipline. Toward the end of the school day on a recent Tuesday, he noticed a student whose khaki-colored cargo pants were riding a good 6 inches below the waistband of his plaid boxers, despite the "No sag zone" fliers posted around the school.
He simply told the student he hoped he didn't come to school the next day dressed the same way.
"I could easily have made it a big deal," said Duda, who firmly believes that the best way to modify behavior is to model respect. "But it comes back to, 'Are we trying to change the behavior, or are we trying to punish?' "
The next day, Duda thanked the student for coming to school dressed appropriately.
"Every day is a new day," Duda said. "Everybody deserves a second chance."
Even kids who might not do things correctly the first time.