Parents from North and Parcells told school officials their children didn't always feel safe in the hallways, and realtors shared fears of a tarnished reputation for the schools during a special meeting Wednesday morning in Grosse Pointe Shores.
The new is the city's new panel of residents and realtors tasked with finding ways to promote living in the Shores.
The committee invited the principals of and , as well as Superintendent Tom Harwood, to address issues surrounding the reputation of the two schools. They also were looking for ways to highlight the positive accomplishments in the district.
About 15 residents and city officials sat in on Wednesday's meeting, many firing tough questions about safety and how the reputation of the schools affects the area's real estate market.
Harwood, North principal Tim Bearden and new Parcells principal Cathryn Armstrong said many of the concerns from the community were based on rumors, not facts.
"We have an exemplary school," Bearden said of North. "It is truly an exceptional place."
Bearden said he believes so much in the school system he moved his family to the district. He said Pointers are the school’s toughest critics and do not see the excellence there. "The only place I have to defend Grosse Pointe North is in Grosse Pointe," he said, noting that the North/South rivalry is something akin to MSU/U-M. Ultimately both schools are top notch, he said.
Bearden later shared a list of talking points about the great things going on at North, which he also posted on his school blog.
Committee members and residents asked the officials about rumors of daily fights in the hallways. One North parent said her children feared going down certain hallways, and reported teachers felt intimated by unruly students.
Committee member and area realtor Alex Lucido asked the officials to address the concern about security, which he says directly effects property values in the Shores and the Woods. "We are hearing that there are so many fights going on in the schools. We keep hearing there are fights every day. Girls fighting. Boys fighting," he said.
Parents in the audience said they were worried the schools weren't strict and fast enough to deal with troublemakers.
The school officials dismissed all of this, and said rumors of rampant fighting are false.
"We do not have fights every day. That is not true," Bearden said. He said hallways at North are orderly and when trouble breaks out it is dealt with swiftly. He also said rumors circulating that a teacher was severely injured by a student were unfounded. "A teacher was not put into the hospital by students. This is a rumor." The teacher did have a minor injury while breaking up two students in a scuffle. It was an accident, and the students were punished promptly, he said.
Armstrong said that when there are problems, the school deals with them swiftly, and students know they face consequences. "We are very proactive, and we respond immediately," she said.
Some parents said it's not the big fights that are the problem, rather it’s the general misbehavior in the hallways between classes, with students roughhousing and using foul language.
"To sit and pretend the halls are perfect and there are no problems—I have issues with that," said Parcells parent Leslie Derrick. She said it's the "small potatoes" that concern her—a game where boys routinely smack others in the head in the hallways, or call each other racial slurs and use profanity without recourse.
Derrick said she and parents truly want to help in the hallways, and said they would volunteer to patrol daily if the school wanted.
Bearden said surely there are behavior issues at the schools, but it's not as bad as some in the community fear or the rumors would have it. "We don't pretend there are no issues ever," he said, "We have 1,300 adolescents in one place. We are going to have issues."
Armstrong, who came to Parcells in January, said efforts to improve behavior at the schools and reinforce student conduct have been paying off and she hopes to have data at the end of the school year to support that.
Harwood cautioned residents to consider the facts and not rely on games of "telephone" and the rumor mill when talking about the schools.
Shores Councilman Dan Schulte, however, said there has to be more behavior control at the schools.
"I see kids that are just out of control in the hall.The threshold for tolerance for bad behavior across the board has become too lax. That has to change," he said, "That’s the biggest problem we have. That has to change or the Pointes will go down the drain.”
Bearden said he strongly disagreed. “When students do act inappropriately we do respond,” he said. “Our hallways are safe.”
He then extended an invitation to anyone who wants to visit Grosse Pointe North to contact him. “The invitation I give to everyone is come. I’ll get you a visitor’s badge. … You can walk around anywhere in North High School with a visitor’s badge. … I urge you all to come. It is truly an exceptional place."