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Troubled KC secondary school increases security

Troubled KC secondary school increases security

February 15th, 2011 by HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH, Associated Press Writer in News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Kansas City School District has beefed up security at a once excelling secondary school that has struggled since a massive consolidation effort more than doubled its enrollment, officials said Monday.

Superintendent John Covington said the district is adding 18 more security officers and 12 additional administrators to the Southwest Early College Campus. Cash rewards will be offered for information about suspicious or illegal activity, and the district will have no tolerance for student misbehavior, he said.

Covington acknowledged that money is tight, but he said it's impossible to put a price on safety.

"That has to be our first priority, and we understand that," he said.

The announcement came after students were evacuated twice Friday and eventually sent home an hour early after fires were started and a fight broke out.

Southwest has seen remarkable ups and downs since it opened in 1922 to serve the posh neighborhoods being built in the area at the time.

Amid declining enrollment, the district closed the school in 1998, and an independent charter school operated there for several years before leaving for a new site in 2005. The district reopened the school in fall 2008 as a magnet program, eventually serving about 500 students who committed to an early college program. Students were faring well on tests.

But budget problems came to a head last year, and the school district opened this fall with about 40 percent fewer schools. The consolidation added about 800 students to Southwest as it became a comprehensive school.

Since the start of the school year, two principals have resigned and firefighters have been called to the school about 50 times.

Battalion Chief Joe Vitale said 14 of the calls were for fires and six for medical emergencies. He said the rest were false alarms or were canceled before firefighters arrived.

Vitale said Monday that it was fortunate no one has been hurt so far.

"At some point in time you are going to tempt fate once too often," he said.

The teachers union also has complained about the conditions at the school and demanded changes.

Covington said he believes a small group of seventh- and eighth-graders is responsible for many of the problems.

The district previously added security guards and opened an alternative high school program that took dozens of Southwest students. It also split the school into three academies, including the early college program and another focused on health and science.

"We are working with this administration to make sure we create a safe environment for the faculty, the staff and our students," Covington said. "With a little patience we'll get there."