Beset by a bruised reputation and parental complaints about unruly students, Lamar High School administrators put out a call last week for parents to gather at the school for a town hall session aimed at tackling discipline problems.
"It's a hot topic," said first-year Principal Larry Harmon, especially since recent television reports linked a Lamar student's attempted suicide with possible bullying.
Harmon said he has received e-mails from parents and Lamar graduates who are concerned that the school could slip even further.
Reports about lax discipline aren't the only problem.
Lamar, the only Arlington high school north of Interstate 30, has the highest dropout rate of any of the district's six traditional high schools, the principal said.
"I think Lamar has an image problem, and has had one for the last several years," Harmon said. "Our question is, 'How do you nurture these [misbehaving] students?' And that's something that all large high schools face."
Sixty-seven Lamar parents showed up for the town hall on Thursday. There are 2,900 students enrolled at Lamar.Most of the 2,334 discipline problems reported last year involved underclassmen, particularly freshmen, the parents were told.
Almost two-thirds of the total 302 students with three or more violations during the year were freshmen (191).
Most of the discipline problems were infractions of the Student Code of Conduct (2,138), the district's rules for students involving dress, use of cellphones, classroom behavior and other matters. There were also 76 fights, 71 controlled substance issues and seven felonies.
Only a small number of Lamar students are chronically in trouble, Harmon said.
Ten percent of Lamar students last year were responsible for 67 percent of the discipline violations, according to the district's data.
Harmon calls them "frequent flyers."
"What does it take to get them out?" one parent asked during the meeting. "What does it say when they stay and stay?"
The three top areas of concern, according to an interactive parent poll taken during the meeting, were addressing classroom disruptions, freshman transition to high school and teaching students the difference between public versus private behavior.
Parent-offered solutions included housing ninth-graders on their own campus or leaving them in junior high, using upperclassmen to self-police freshmen and apply peer pressure to their behavior, and having more transitional help. They also advocated a no-tolerance policy for offenders and removing troublemakers from the classroom as soon as an incident occurs.
Lamar's next step, Harmon said, is to poll school staff on the same questions parents answered, and then form an action plan using the combined results.
Harmon said he has enlisted the aid of eight nearby churches to begin a community approach.
"North Davis Church of Christ has opened their basketball courts to students," he said, "and a lot of boys that have been hanging out on the parking lot at Wal-Mart after school have been going there to play basketball instead."
Students themselves formed an anti-bullying club and campaign, complete with a Facebook page, a Spirit Week dedicated to bully-free activities and public-service vignettes filmed by theater students.
Harmon said he will begin regular parent meetings to increase involvement at Lamar's feeder elementary and junior high schools. "I'm happy with the turnout tonight because of the responses," he said. "They were very open and very clear on what they thought would work. It gives us a starting point to have a conversation with parents."
Parents seemed happy to be making a start at polishing Lamar's image and lessening the impact of discipline problems on the classroom.
Others, like sophomore parent Bryan Huggins, wanted more data on the infractions and suggested a multiyear comparison of incidents.
"I'm a parent of a junior," said Wil'Lwin Wallace. "I think if we had a little more pointed information ... if they had broader categories we could have dealt with more issues."
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657