One of Ward 8’s leading philanthropic nonprofits sponsored a community dialogue with education leaders on Aug. 5 as crime in general and homicides specifically continue to plague young Washingtonians.
The William O. Lockridge Community Foundation facilitated the “High School Principals: A Community Conversation on Students Public Safety” forum at Ward 8’s Ballou High School in Southeast.
Principals participating in the panel discussion were William Haith of Ballou, William Massey of H.D. Woodson in Northeast, Steve Miller of Eastern High School in Northeast, and Shannon Woolery of KIPP DC Legacy College Preparatory in Southeast. Sam P.K. Collins, education reporter for The Informer, moderated the panel discussion while Wanda Lockridge, the founder and chairwoman of the Lockridge Foundation, supervised the event.
“We are going to have a conversation about our students,” said Lockridge. “Principals and teachers talk among themselves. We have created space to talk to the community.”
The forum, held in front of 40 people, occurred as the District endures a crime wave. During the weekend the forum was held, seven people were fatally shot, with several injured from the incidents.
D.C. police crime statistics report that as of Aug. 7, 161 homicides have taken place in the city, as opposed to 126 on this date in 2022. Overall, violent crime has increased 37% from last year at this time.
The Principals Speak
Collins said the forum had the potential to be productive.
“A lot of things are out of our control,” he said. “The panelists need to generate ideas to be proactive.”
Collins started the round of questions with, “What keeps you up at night?”
Miller said six students have been injured due to gunshots close to Eastern within a year and that bothers him.
“Two students have been shot outside of campus,” he said. “Another was shot on the day of the Turkey Bowl. I’m tired of it. Our kids deserve to be safe.”
Massey said what keeps him up at night is the chance to help the students he manages.
“It is the fire and desire to help my students reach the potential they deserve,” he said. “The potential to which they can reach. That is why I am here to hear what is on you all’s mind.”
Haith said helping members of the community—not just students—has given him purpose.
“Families are coming to the school and asking for help,” Haith, 42, said. “They are doing that because they have exhausted all of their resources.”
Haith explained that many people are unaware that some families approach schools for resources such as food, clothing and information on housing and jobs.
As far as student safety is concerned, Haith said statistics such as how many in-school suspensions, suspensions and expulsions should not be as important as whether they want to come back into the building.
“Students have to feel a sense of belonging,” he said. “In many instances, when students come to school, the first person they see is a security guard. We want them to feel more welcome, so we have designed a program where a staff member greets them. We can build on that.”
Haith said he understands the pain some students feel when they come to campus.
“I have been a victim of gun violence,” he said. “One time, I was robbed and pistol-whipped before I got to school. When I got to school, I told the teacher, and I was asked ‘are you doing okay?’”
Woolery said one of tactics of enduring safety must be partnership with community organizations.
“We make it a point to partner with community organizations,” she said. “We also try to bring the parents in the school as much as possible.”
Massey agreed with Woolery on her point regarding parental involvement. He had a message for the parents.
“We are your village,” he said. “We have resources for you whether you lost your job or anything else.”
Lockridge said the forum was a success and she plans to hold another.
“The next one will focus on middle schools, and we will invite those principals to address the community,” she said.