October 14, 2009 | Linda Lutton, WBEZ Chicago

Pursuing a ‘culture of calm’

Youth violence in Chicago has grabbed local and national headlines the past several weeks, following the beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert. None of the Chicago Public Schools students killed last year or this year died IN school.

But CEO Ron Huberman is spending $30 million in education stimulus funds to tackle youth violence. Part of his plan calls for creating a "culture of calm" inside 38 high schools.

Leff: “When bystanders start intervening to break up a fight as opposed to running to get to it, cheer it on, take sides, and possibly wage a bet, it's a very, very different school culture.” Lila Leff runs the Umoja Student Development Corporation, which is housed inside Manley and supports students and teachers there. It brings in an extra $700,000 a year. Few schools have these kinds of extra resources.

Manley made some real in-roads. Stallings says serious infractions dropped by 75 percent between his first year on the job and his second. But despite improvements, Manley is still among the 38 schools the district says need to improve their culture.

Gang affiliations and family feuds still enter through the front door. Kids still fight. It's like Manley has been able to better the odds against its neighborhood. But it hasn't been able to beat them outright.

Leff: “This work is messy and it's expensive and it's hard. And it is the only thing. It's also messy and expensive and hard to bury kids.”

Back at Manley High School, principal Stalling also measured the school's success in fire alarm pulls.

Stalling: “In the first semester of our first year, we had 8 fire alarm pulls.”

The next semester there was just one alarm. That's the sort of quick and dramatic change Huberman is looking for. And he hopes it makes a difference — inside the school, and out.

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