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May 23, 2006


Rumors and perceptions to the contrary not withstanding, Mount Pleasant High School is a safe school with staff and students functioning in a harmonious environment, the Brandywine school board was told.

"Ninety-eight percent of our students are doing the right thing. ... We're not going to let a group of people hold our school hostage for any reason,"principal Gregg Robinson said. "I would like to paint for you a picture of the real Mount Pleasant."

He said that, so far this academic year, there have been 30 incidents of the kind that state law requires be reported to the police. That, he said, compares to 40 at this stage of the 2004-05 year and 46 in 2003-04.

That indicated improvement, he added, was clouded by a shooting at a basketball game in January. He described that incident as "unfortunate [and] isolated," but said it is something that could have happened at any high school.

The immediate response was to stop having evening events. However, the student council and class officers prevailed upon the administration to rescind that decision and, since then, sports events, dances, the annual musical play and other events have been held with no untoward happenings.

Ella Burton, faculty advisor to the student council, said that the test of returning to normal operation was a student pep rally. "There was some reluctance to have [it]," she said. "But the pep rally was a complete success and a perfect representation of what our students are."

Burton was one of a group of administrators, teachers, students and parents who backed up Robinson's report at the board meeting on May 2. In addition, eight adult attenders at the meeting spoke favorably of the school during the public-comment portion of the meeting. No one offered any opposing views. Attendance was larger than at any other regularly-scheduled monthly board business meeting during the past few years.

Robinson did tell the board that "we need your support to work with the other 2%," but, other than encouraging increased volunteer  mentoring, he did not specify what sort of help he would like to receive. Board president Craig Gilbert suggest that there be a follow-up workshop session to discuss possibilities.

Board member Mark Huxsoll -- who has been active at the school and described himself as going to be  "the only member of my family who did not graduate from Mount Pleasant" after his youngest daughter attends -- said he wants to alter misperceptions. "The community at Mount Pleasant High School is important to me. I really don't like to see it get a bad rap," he said.

"The issues we have at Mount Pleasant are the same issues we have in the school district. Mount Pleasant is very much on par with Brandywine [High] and Concord," Brandywine superintendent Bruce Harter said.

The most compelling testimony during the hour-long discussion was by Frances Watson, who came to the area after having to evacuate in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year. Her son has spent his senior year at Mount Pleasant and is about to graduate. Drawing on past involvement with urban schools in New Orleans, she said, "I don't think anything that is going on at Mount Pleasant is unusual. Mount Pleasant is a typical high school. If I did not think he was safe, he would not be there."

She said the most pressing problem she sees at the school is lack of parental involvement. "At most [Parent-Teacher-Student Association] meetings there are very few people there," she said.

Three about-to-graduate seniors told the school board that they have no fears for their safety at the school.

"Our violent incidents are minimal," Otis Blackburn, an interventionist, said. "We're not police. Intervention means trying to stop something before it happens. ... We're doing what we're supposed to do."

Choral director Tom Dean said he and other faculty members have formed a public relations committee to counter community misperceptions. "Unfortunately, the bad things tend to be blown out of proportion and concentrated on," he said.

Robinson presented a long list of the school's accomplishments which he said have received minimal public notice. He contrasted the shooting incident with the heroism of a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps students who saved a youngster from possible drowning last summer.

George Chambers, one of the attenders who spoke, said he and several other parents are willing to work to make Mount Pleasant "a pilot school for the state" in terms of safety and security.

"We can move Mount [Pleasant] in a positive direction. Everything begins with us," Lena Elufom said.

2006. All rights reserved.

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