Woodlands Hills School Turmoil Linked to Home

By Togneri, Chris | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 24, 2007 | Go to article overview

Woodlands Hills School Turmoil Linked to Home


Togneri, Chris, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


When 10 Woodland Hills High School students were arrested on a day punctuated by a bomb scare, a false fire alarm and several fights in hallways, it took police hours to find the parents of four of the teens.

Their parents either did not answer phone calls or could not be reached at listed emergency numbers -- in some cases six hours after the detentions Nov. 6 -- and officers eventually took the kids to their homes, Churchill police Chief Allen Park said.

That lack of parental involvement typifies all that is wrong with the Woodland Hills School District, contend Park and district officials.

"It comes back to parenting," Park said. "We're dealing with a product that has taken 10, 11 years to create. And we're not going to fix it overnight.

"It's scary when you can't get a hold of a parent even during an emergency situation. You'd think the first thing I would get is a call from a parent. Instead, we were stuck baby-sitting them."

As district officials cope with a month of violent events, they caution that schools alone are not to blame for the behavior of some students. And it's no different from many other districts, they say.

"We used to have active PTOs," Superintendent Roslynne Wilson said. "For whatever reason, we now have some parents who are not engaged. I don't think it's just us. The problems are a reflection of what's going on in society."

While acknowledging that problems exist, school officials insist the schools are safe. They believe Woodland Hills is unfairly scrutinized because of its controversial, court-ordered formation by merging five districts 26 years ago.

"Woodland Hills is not a happy place right now," said school board President Cynthia Lowery. "But I don't think our problems are any different than (those) in neighboring districts."

Students and parents say fights occur regularly at the schools. A few students cause the outbursts, officials said.

"It's certainly not anything we're proud of, and we're trying to deal with it," said district spokeswoman Maria McCool. "But student- on-student violence is something everyone has to deal with."

Officials have installed security cameras, increased police presence on campuses, and sent memos to parents informing them of stricter rules for dress codes and student behavior. Wilson spent several days last week meeting with students to hear what they think is wrong and should be done.

News coverage of the problems at Woodland Hills is magnified because of the district's history, some say. It was formed in 1981, in part to end racial segregation, by merging Edgewood, Swissvale, Churchill, General Braddock and Turtle Creek districts.

"In Woodland Hills' case, they're still trying to cope with a shotgun marriage that was mandated by a federal court," said Robert Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. "It was watched all over the country, and it led to communities that had different socioeconomics being forced together.

"There was anger. Let's face it, the people of Turtle Creek did not want their kids to go to school with the kids from other districts."

Strauss said recent events at Woodland Hills are "objectionable," but compared to some other districts, "this is nothing."

"It could've happened anywhere -- with rich, poor, white, black kids, this could happen," he said.

School board member Robert Tomasic said he has been frustrated for years with the way the schools are run. He said he is looking into rumors that the district is absorbing problem students from other districts.

"Are we getting kids who should be in Shuman (Juvenile Detention) Center?" he said. "I'm trying to find out, how long have these kids been at Woodland Hills?"

Parents and students are concerned.

"In order to learn, you have to want to learn," said Kim Wehrer of North Braddock, who has a son at Rankin Intermediate and a daughter at West Junior High. …

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