Suspensions up at Murrow

Brooklyn Daily

A Brooklyn high school founded as a bastion of student freedom has become one of the borough’s most strict, thanks to a principal with a penchant for punishment who’s not afraid to reward misbehaving students with unscheduled vacations.

Officials at Edward R. Murrow HS in Midwood doled out 357 suspensions last year — the second-most in the borough — a surprise for a school founded with an “emphasis on freedom,” as Saul Bruckner, its original principal, once told an interviewer.

Times have changed under his successor, Principal Anthony Lodico, who admits he has a knack for discipline — and a military-esque intolerance of “insubordination.”

Lodico said the recent suspension spike was the result of his use of the broken-window theory when it comes to making sure students follow the rules.

“One of my philosophies is that we have zero tolerance,” said Lodico. “We do suspend if students are misbehaving or not following the discipline code.”

In addition to stricter enforcement of rules that lead to detention, such as wearing hats or headphones and listening to iPods in hallways, Lodico has cracked down on class-cutting by forbidding students from roaming freely through halls during free periods — which was always considered a perk of going to Murrow.

Lodico ended the unsupervised free periods that were a hallmark of the school’s free-spirited philosophy about two years ago, according to its student newspaper.

Since then, all students except seniors have been forced to spend their free periods — called “OPTAs” — in designated areas on campus. On top of that, leaving campus during a free period, which was never permitted but was generally accepted, is now next to impossible.

There were between 225 and 250 suspensions at Murrow between 2006 and 2009, Suspension data for 2009-2010 was not available.

Students we spoke to said they were not surprised by the high suspension numbers, arguing it was representative of school that came down too hard on minor issues.

“We’re not a bad school,” said Stephanie Tsamasiros, a senior. “So [the numbers] say the school is suspending people too easily.”

Lodico agreed that most of the suspensions at Murrow were not for serious offences.

“We suspend for insubordination, where at a lot of other schools, that might not turn into suspensions,” said Lodico. “I think being consistent with the small things will help you not lead to bigger, more serious things.”

The school — named for the revered newscaster who famously denounced Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s — is one of the borough’s biggest high schools at just over 4,000 students — but the number of suspensions put it far ahead of similarly-sized schools nearby.

Midwood HS, with around 4,000 students, gave out only 89 suspensions last year, while James Madison HS, with just over 3,000 students, doled out 142.

Automotive HS in Greenpoint lead the borough with 394 suspensions, though it only has 881 students.

Lodico said he doesn’t think he’s violated the school’s founding philosophy, despite the changes.

“The philosophy where students had the ability to make choices and be part of the educational process — I don’t think that’s shifted at all,” he said. “But in terms of students not being able to sit in the hallway all day and not go to class, it’s shifted greatly.”

Students on the other hand, beg to differ.

“We used to be able to leave the school during OPTAs and be in the hallways freely, which made Murrow unique,” said Phoebe Taylor, a junior. “But now they’re just unreasonable.”

— with Carla Sinclair

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/from_where_isit.

Reader Feedback

LBS from Queens says:
You stated that "there were between 225 and 250 suspensions at Murrow between 2006 and 2009". I figure that means and average of approximately 45 students per year. Far below the other schools you mentioned in your article. Additionally, you are ignoring the fact that times have drastically changed since Mr. Bruckner was principal. We now have rules and regulations dictated to all schools by the DOE concerning headphones, cell phones, hats and other technology. These were items that did not have to be dealt with years ago The process of admittance to Murrow has also changed. No longer does the administration have as much opportunity to select and screen students for entrance into the school. In the past,it was possible to try to match students to the school, who would do well in a free spirited environment. If a student was not self motivated and meeting academic success, the student was transferred to a more "traditional school". Now, students cannot transfer and must remain at a school even if they cannot handle the freedom. It is frustrating for parents, students and staff. If students leave the building they are picked up by truancy so they are advised not to leave. Yet, there are still many students leaving the building to have lunch at the local restaurant and picking up food at nearby stores. Unfortunately times and the way things are handled have had to change, Many of us dream of the past but we all have to adapt to a different world. What hasn't changed is that the school is still composed of very caring staff who are trying to keep to the school's founding philosophy and who try to guide students to make good decisions. Students still have choices in the classes they take, how to constructively spend their OPTA time etc. However there is increasing pressure on schools to meet certain criteria and if not met there are dire consequences. Consequently changes in the school's approach had to be altered but this is a small price to pay if it keeps Murrow open. I wouldn't want to be any place else.
Dec. 3, 2011, 12:55 am

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