Acting D.C. School Superintendent Andrew Jenkins responded yesterday to the city's epidemic of drug violence by proposing academic competitions and a series of "assemblies and pep rallies focusing on school spirit, safety, drugs and violence."
In his first meeting with the school system's principals and administrators, Jenkins pledged to try to build character in students and encourage interest in academics.
"Our mayor has issued a challenge to reclaim our streets," said Jenkins, the former deputy superintendent who earlier this month succeeded Floretta D. McKenzie. McKenzie left office to form an education consulting firm. Jenkins is expected to remain in charge of the 87,000-student system through July; he also is a candidate for the permanent post.
"We must bombard our youngsters with a variety of success stories until they cannot turn away from the many options they have," Jenkins told more than 400 administrators.
The principals and supervisors assembled at Eastern High School greeted Jenkins' first address with tepid applause. Some school board members reacted to his antidrug and antiviolence plan with open skepticism.
"We've had our share of feel-good ceremonies," said R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8). "I don't see pep rallies addressing the problem. We have to go deeper and focus on programs that involve parents. We've got to reach out to the family. We have to stop treating every crisis with a Band-Aid and start looking at the causes of the problem."
The assemblies and competitions are "not enough to cure the problem alone, but it's just a part of our effort," said board member Angie Corley (Ward 5). "There will be a parade for parents, too. And there will be other programs for parents as well, to help children psychologically say no to drugs."
But school board President Linda Cropp (Ward 4) defended Jenkins' proposals as "being on the right track. Assembly programs and pep rallies are an avenue for the children to get involved. I applaud the effort."
Despite a sharp increase in the District's homicide rate and a surge of drug sales in the city, the rates of drug and weapon confiscations in D.C. schools have remained steady for three years, school security chief Shelton Lee said.
But Lee said that drugs and weapons are easily hidden, and said the lack of an increase in reported incidents does not mean that children are unaffected by what is happening in the streets.
Jenkins also announced a plan to show each senior how to arrange for college admission, vocational training or a job.