Some employees at Southeast High School in Wichita say they have “grave concerns” about escalating violence and unruly behavior at the school, and they’re urging leaders to take “decisive and strong actions” to combat it.
A petition being circulated among faculty and other employees says current administrators at Southeast aren’t doing enough to control student behavior and keep the school safe.
“It has come to the point that we are fearful for not just students, but staff as well because of the continuing escalation of disruptive, unacceptable and violent student behavior,” reads the petition, which The Eagle obtained a copy of on Friday.
A teacher who asked not to be named said the petition had more than 20 signatures.
Southeast High, at 127th Street East and Pawnee, has an enrollment of about 1,740 students.
Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, said he met Friday afternoon with Southeast principal Lori Doyle and Gil Alvarez, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, to discuss concerns.
Wentz said he knew about the petition but that Friday’s meeting had been arranged more than a week ago and was not precipitated by the petition.
“I am confident after my conversation today that the district and the principal are going to work at solving those (behavior issues), and they’re open to having input from faculty, staff and the union on how to move forward,” Wentz said.
District spokeswoman Susan Arensman said administrators had not seen the petition. They “did listen to concerns about some student behavior and will continue to work on communicating classroom expectations and respond to any concerns that are brought forward,” Arensman said in an e-mail Friday.
Police calls to schools
Between Aug. 26 and Nov. 26, Wichita police were called to Southeast High to handle at least 33 offenses, according to an Eagle analysis of police department data on the city’s website.
Alleged crimes reported at Southeast included assault, disorderly conduct, drug offenses and vandalism, according to the data. There were 12 incidents of assault, including four reports of battery of a school employee.
For the three-month time period, Southeast had nearly 19 offenses per 1,000 students.
In comparison, West High had about 36 offenses per 1,000 students, and Heights High had 28.
South, North and East high schools each had about 16 offenses per 1,000 students. Northwest High had 12. The data did not show any reports at Northeast Magnet High School, which is in Bel Aire.
The data only includes reports made to police. It does not include any offenses that school officials might have handled themselves.
“I think people (at Southeast) are frustrated more than they are angry or scared or frightened,” Wentz said. He taught history and psychology at Southeast before becoming union president in 2015.
“I really think there’s an overall concern about administrative follow-through on behavior, whether it’s violent or not.”
‘It has to change’
Lori Doyle was named principal of Southeast High in 2014. Doyle, formerly the district’s executive director of secondary schools, replaced Leroy Parks, who now oversees programs at the Chester I. Lewis Academic Learning Academy.
Doyle previously served as principal at West High School and Metro-Boulevard Alternative High School. She supervised Southeast High’s move to a new building at 127th Street East and Pawnee, which opened last year.
Messages left with Doyle Friday were not returned.
Wentz, the union president, said his group received complaints from several Southeast teachers that administrators – Doyle and four assistant principals – have not set clear behavior expectations and are inconsistent with student discipline.
“It’s concerning, because when you don’t deal with minor behaviors on the front end, they tend to build,” he said. “Kids will pretty much get away with what we allow them to get away with.”
After Friday’s meeting, Wentz said, he thinks Doyle is committed to addressing the problems.
“What we’re doing is not working, so it has to change,” Wentz said. “Let’s come up with solutions together. … The district has the ability to take care of it with the tools already at their disposal.”
A unique challenge facing Southeast could be it’s geography, Wentz said. The new school sits in the extreme southeast corner of the district, surrounded by farmland, which means that when arguments escalate into physical clashes, they tend to happen on campus rather than in surrounding areas.
“There aren’t any streets or neighborhoods or alleyways for things to happen,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘I’ll meet you on 32nd Street,’ and that’s where the fight will happen.”
Plans to change
Union officials have raised concerns about student behavior several times recently. In May, the union’s vice president said disruptive students are driving some teachers out of the profession, and she urged district leaders to address the problem.
According to school district data, discipline problems have increased substantially in Wichita schools over the past four years.
The total number of discipline incidents – including suspensions, detentions and trips to the principal’s office – increased about 11 percent from the 2013 to 2017. Over the same period, enrollment in Wichita schools fell about 1 percent.
Superintendent Alicia Thompson, who took the helm in June, said she planned to make student behavior a priority.
Her plan calls for clarifying expectations, monitoring data more carefully and helping teachers better understand students’ diverse backgrounds.