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Charlotte Area News

Fights Land Garinger In An Unwanted Spotlight

Garinger High School in Charlotte has had its name in the headlines lately. Four times in the last six weeks to be exact, all for fights or some kind of disturbance. The latest one happened Tuesday. A gun was fired across the street from Garinger after school let out, but no one was injured. Police arrested two Garinger students. Double the security officers now roam the school's courtyard and hallways. And administrators and students alike shake their heads that fights have landed Garinger in the spotlight just when the school is making some improvements. Late Tuesday afternoon, Garinger senior Erica Aldana was making posters for the school's food and toy drives. Shortly after the final bell rang, there was gunfire outside. Garinger went on lock down. It was a scary ordeal, yet the next day Aldana was defending her school. "It's been getting a bad reputation for like a long time. But I feel as if Garinger shouldn't be having a bad name on it because it's not a bad school. It's a good school," said Aldana. "I've been here for four years and I've been safe." Garinger's discipline record didn't stand out on last year's school report card, but this year it certainly has gotten attention. Garinger first made headlines in late October with a fight that broke out at the school's homecoming game. Gun shots were fired in the parking lot, but no one was hurt. "All those people that started all that chaos, they were not from our school. They just came over here and messed everything up," said Aldana. The following week, three kids were arrested for disorderly conduct and a knife was found on a student. Administrators say they heard rumors a student brought a weapon to school. So they did a sweep of every classroom and they found one student with a knife. Two weeks ago, 10 students were arrested when two separate fights broke out at school. And then there were Tuesday's gun shots after school. Two students were arrested. The list of problems makes central secondary zone superintendent Denise Watts cringe. "I don't want to minimize the things that have occurred, but I think they are representative of a social issue that we have beyond the school that would include the community," says Watts. "I don't think it's representative of the 99 percent of kids that come to school everyday and do what they're supposed to do." After the disturbances, CMS doubled its security presence on campus to twelve officers. But freshman Oscar Ramos isn't impressed. "They added extra enforcement, extra security guards and still no change. Matter of fact, it's increasing rather than decreasing," says Ramos. On Wednesday everything was calm as kids shuttled between classes and lessons went on as usual. Garinger has its challenges. About 80 percent of students are from low-income families and the school has had to contend with several years of low graduation rates. Four years ago, Garinger was broken up into five smaller schools with a couple hundred kids each so that teachers could connect better with students and motivate them to achieve. Graduation rates are beginning to turn around and test scores have jumped. Principal of Garinger's Business and Finance School Carol Rodd says extra security can only do so much to help her kids. "Obviously, we can get more security, we can do searches, we can do lockdowns, but the number one thing that can help move the dial on safety is around building those relationships and also deliberately and intentionally helping students have the skills to be able to resolve conflict peacefully in a civilized matter," says Rodd. That's not going to happen overnight though and Garinger student Brenda Moore says until the troublemakers learn how to act like adults she's going to keep a low profile. "I avoid drama at all costs. That's something I just hate," says Moore. She worries about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she says she just deals. Her parents are a different story. "I guess I'm not as scared or as tremulous as they are about me coming to school. I just look at it as just another day," says Moore. "But they worry like heavy like call me when you get to school, call me when you leave school." Last year Moore went to Phillip O. Berry, a technology magnate school. But she transferred to Garinger, her home school, because of cutbacks to the magnate busing system. She says her parents would have had a hard time getting her to a shuttle bus stop for Berry. Besides, no one expected the alternative to be a school with gunfire. So now Moore says they're talking about how to get her back to Berry next year.