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Smith vows to stop violence at Springfield Gardens HS

Local politicians and educators vowed to eliminate gang activity and violence from Springfield Gardens High School by using a zero-tolerance policy and partnerships with area corporations.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) met with the school’s principal and superintendent, other elected officials, and members of the school community last Thursday afternoon to announce plans to improve the school environment and make it a safe and productive learning environment, Smith said.

The school at 143-10 Springfield Blvd. serves students from Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, and Laurelton, and has had problems with gang activity, including drug dealing and prostitution, Smith said. While most of the activity takes place outside of the school, students have reported being robbed at knifepoint inside the school, he said.

“We have some concerns about the disruptive behavior here,” Smith said. “There are a great number of good students. We want them to know that they can be safe.”

The school’s annual report to the Board of Education for the 2000-2001 school year listed 286.4 suspensions per 1,000 students, compared with 57.7 in other city high schools. At Springfield Gardens High School there were 17.8 incidents requiring police involvement per 1,000 students, nearly three times as many as in other city high schools, where 5.8 incidents per 1,000 student were reported, according to the report. The high school had 1,969 students as of Oct. 31, 2001.

“It’s very negative,” said Otis Lewis, a junior from Rosedale. “There’s just something that makes you feel scared. The security guards are trying to make it better, but it hasn’t stopped yet.”

To root out the violence, Smith is working with the principal, Robert Hickson, and the school community to institute a zero-tolerance policy aimed at the disruptive behavior, he said. The Queens district attorney’s office has agreed to cooperate on the initiative, Smith said.

“If we can clearly identify them as involved with that type of behavior, they will be prosecuted,” he said. “We’re going to make Springfield Gardens safe.”

The district attorney’s office will also work with police and school counselors to monitor the behavior of students who have been incarcerated, Smith said.

The school is also hoping to work with corporations, including Verizon, Con Edison and John F. Kennedy International Airport, to offer students vocational training and employment opportunities, although no specific details have been set for the program, Smith said.

Representatives from Con Edison and JFK were on hand to lend support to the program.

“These students could be our future job applicants at Con Edison,” said Carl Lee, a spokesman for the Queens office of the company.

The violence is interfering with the school’s many specialty concentration programs, like law, veterinary science, business, technology, and culinary arts, said Rosalind O’Neal, chairwoman of the School Leadership Team at the high school. The school also has a strong honors program, said John Lee, superintendent of Queens high schools.

“Education has to be a partnership,” he said. “We have many, many excellent students here and we have to make sure their learning is not disrupted.”

The programs will be funded from money from the coming budget, Smith said. Although no schedule has been set, he is hoping to put the programs in place for the start of the school year in September, he said.

“From today, things are going to change and change in a positive way,” Hickson said. “We need to change the image. This is a wonderful place and a beautiful community.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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