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Posted: June 26, 2012 9:45 p.m.

Public's bark worse than school's bite

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Newton County high schools are often painted in a bad light. Tales are told of unruly students in the classroom, fights in the hallways and drugs and sex on the school grounds.

While those activities certainly happen, they don't appear to be any more frequent in Newton County than elsewhere. Based on an analysis of school disciplinary reports from Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties, Newton County's high schools fall right in the middle.

Given the prominent lawsuit involving Alcovy High School Principal LaQuanda Carpenter, Alcovy has fallen under more intense scrutiny recently as anonymous bloggers have disparagingly called the school a "zoo."

However, Newton High School has the highest ratio of incidents per students, while Alcovy falls in the middle and Eastside has the fewest.

In terms of fights, which have been a particular complaint at Alcovy, from 2009 to 2011 Alcovy did have the highest percentage of fights at one fight per every 24.6 students, but Newton wasn't far behind at one fight per every 27.4 students. Eastside had by the far the fewest fights at one per every 57.3 students.

Across the three counties, Newton and Rockdale counties were fairly similar in terms of their total incidents per student, while Walton's high schools by far the highest incidents per students, though Walton's number only include 2010 and 2011. Incidents can be anything from an in-school suspension to alcohol or drug possession to more serious crimes. The vast majority of incidents are classified as "other discipline incidents," which are often in-school suspensions and reprimands.

Here's the way the high schools ranked in terms of incidents per student. The number is the number of students per one incident:
Heritage - 2.75
Salem - 2.35
Eastside - 2.31
Alcovy - 2.31
Rockdale - 2.14
Newton - 2.1
Loganville - 1.95
Walnut Grove - 1.26
Monroe Area - 0.89

Below is a more in-depth look at the three Newton County high schools.

Newton High School
The oldest high school in the county has typically been home to the largest population of students as well. In 2009 the school had 2,149 students. The largest amount of disciplinary actions comes from "other," which includes in-school suspension and reprimands, followed by fighting and computer trespass. Roughly 39 percent of the student population that year was disciplined for other, 3 percent for fighting and 32 percent for computer trespass.

The school lost population during the next two years, but the proportion of disciplinary actions was fairly consistent, with totals incidents per student increasing slightly.

"Schools are a reflection of the communities they serve," said NHS Principal Craig Lockhart. "The behaviors we see in schools are the same behaviors we see in society. I am happy to state that most NHS students are aware of our expectations. For those students who choose to disregard the rules, Newton High School is very effective in responding to inappropriate behaviors. Next year, we will focus on rewarding positive behaviors in efforts to hopefully decrease negative behaviors. NHS is moving in the right direction and our students are working hard to make a difference."

Eastside High School
Eastside High has the smallest population and, for the most part, a slightly smaller number of disciplinary actions all around. In 2009 there were 1,404 students. Once again, the other category is the largest, with every one in 23 students being disciplined for it. One in every 63 students was disciplined for fighting and one in every 100 for possession of drugs.

Eastside has seen its incidents per student decrease fairly dramatically, improving from one incident per every 1.97 students in 2009 to one incident per every 2.9 students in 2011.

"At Eastside, we diligently enforce all rules to limit disruptions to the learning environment," said new Principal Jeff Cher. "We have found that students are deterred from violating school rules when they perceive that the consequences will be immediate and consistent. Each year, we analyze the data associated with student behavior to determine areas where preventive actions could reduce student infractions. Ultimately, it takes a dedicated effort by students, staff and parents to create a safe and meaningful learning environment."

Alcovy High School
In 2009, AHS started with 1,635 students. That year, there were 35 percent disciplined for other infractions, 5 percent for fighting and 2 percent for tobacco.

Alcovy has actually seen improvement over the past three years, improving from one incident per every 1.99 students in 2009 to one incident per every 2.4 students in 2011.

"Alcovy High School has always and will continue to focus on communicating behavior expectations to students," said Principal LaQuanda Carpenter. "I am extremely proud of the majority of our students who come to AHS each day and make appropriate academic and behavior decisions. The majority of our students are focused on their college and career goals and are making strides to reach those goals. Students who do not make appropriate behavior decisions are quickly reminded of the expectations via the enforcing of appropriate, meaningful, and quick consequences that are recommended by the Student Code of Conduct. During the upcoming year the discipline committee will work closely with the school administration in an effort to ensure that students continue to be held accountable for exhibiting inappropriate behaviors."

Newton County School Superintendent Gary Mathews said, "As many have said, discipline is first and foremost a recognition of one's home. What goes on there carries on in school. That said, our schools are by far the safest and most nurturing place for many of our students. And our teachers, support staff and principals are persistently looking for ways to achieve the most disciplined of learning environments - those that promote genuine learning without being oppressive."

Each school in the county also had infractions that disciplinary action was taken on, but the numbers were far lower then any of those listed above.

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