In the past year, Percy L. Julian High School at 103rd and Vincennes has had its share of grief. Last May a student was killed on the way home from schoolâ€”in gang crossfire on a city bus. In December, a huge fight broke out in school. Morale has been down. But more than two months ago Julian got a new principal. She's made confronting youth violence a priority.
Dr. Darreyl Young uses frank talk and decisive action when dealing with unruly pupils. She expelled a handful of teens who beat up a student in February. They protested, the parents protested. The principal didn't budge.
YOUNG: When their peers who would possibly do the same thing see these young people are being expelled and they're suffering consequences for their behavior, then they're pretty much towing the line because they don't want the same thing to happen to them.
If students walking the halls aren't supposed to be walking the halls, they are called out over the intercom. Security escorts them to Young's office for an upbraiding.
Young and her law-and-order style came to Julian in January from Hirsch High School. She says she immediately noticed a number of policies that needed to change. She got rid of in-school suspension because, she says, it doesn't work. She plans to start a peer jury. She's had talks with the trouble-making students and their families.
YOUNG: There may be approximately 30 or 40 students who come in this building with an agenda other than getting an education. And those are the 30 or 40 students that we have focused on.
Parents had complained that students use cell phones to call friends to come up to Julian for fights. They blame cell phones and the former principal for the December melee that injured students and teachers. To the delight of the Local School Council, Principal Young reversed the school's relaxed cell phone policy. Now phones are banned.
HOLT: She identified the problem. She let the Local School Council know. She let me know as a police officer. And she says I see a pattern in these particular students. They're the same one who are causing problems all the time with each other, fighting each other.
Ronald Holt is the father of Blair Holt, the young man killed last May. Blair threw himself over a friend as gun shots were fired on the bus they were on just blocks from Julian.
Ronald Holt is still on the Local School Council and is helping organize a benefit in Blair's honor tonight. Principal Young's jazz musician brother is performing and the money is going toward building a memorial for Blair in the school's foyer. Blair's spirit still lives at Julian. Young wears a button with his beaming eighth-grade picture. He's also a reminder about the prevalence of youth violence.
ambi: school lunchroom
Some Julian students took a break from lunch recently to talk with me. Here's what Shaquita Deer, Shamon Payton and Suprina Wallace say:
STUDENTS: People be scared to come to school sometimes for real. I think security needs to step they game up and do more like going home, going outside the door. Don't just be standing out the door and just be looking. Come out there make sure nothing happens. It's just that security guards need to be on their business that's all.
Principal Young says she wants more security, too. Right now, Julian has eight officers for nearly 1,700 students.
I'm Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.