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From school yards to high seas, US wages war on drugs. Caring, discipline give Phoenix junior high an edge on drug, other problems

By Scott ArmstrongStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 7, 1988



Phoenix, Ariz.

FROM the outside, the Greenway Middle School looks like any other nondescript junior high. But inside its taupe cinder block walls has occurred what appears to be one of those rare triumphs in American education. Not long ago, Greenway was the enfant terrible of the Paradise Valley school district in north Phoenix. Although part of a suburban system, Greenway - with just over 1,000 pupils - was experiencing problems common to many big, inner-city schools: drugs, high truancy rate, occasional violence.

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At one point vandalism became so bad that Principal Don Skawski - after his office was broken into the 10th time - bricked over a sliding glass door leading into his room and replaced it with two bunker-like windows.

Now Greenway is more winner than whipping boy. Fights are down, class attendance is up, and the United States Department of Education touts it as a national model in how to curb drug abuse in schools.

Beyond the fact that there is more civility in the hallways, there has also been an improvement in the classroom. Scores on standardized tests have risen, and the school has been selected as the top junior high in Arizona the past two years.

``I'm not naive. We still have problems,'' says Principal Skawski. ``But for a large city school, we're about as clean as you're going to find in the country.''

While Greenway has not found the elixir for American education - even administrators here admit few of their ideas are new - it has put together a comprehensive approach that some state and federal education officials believe holds lessons for other schools. You won't find any administrators here roaming the hallways with bullhorns or baseball bats.

The Greenway formula is made up of tough discipline, encouragement of student responsibility, and positive reinforcement. There are pizza parties, dances, and T-shirts for classes with the best attendance records. Roller skating parties have been organized for classes which go for nine weeks with no one being sent to the office. A ``recognition flag'' is hoisted over the school when a student triumphs in a writing contest.

Buttons are produced admonishing students not to take drugs or rewarding them for classroom work, and academic ``pep'' rallies are held before the start of state testing programs. Skawski himself, a loquacious, salt-and-pepper haired transplant from northern Minnesota, often roams the hallways with a pocket full of pencils, which he gives out for such mundane things as a student opening a door or someone picking up litter.

Along with the carrots, however, there are sticks. When students are tardy for class their names are put on the blackboard. ``Horseplay'' will bring a check after one's name, which may mean ``lunch detention'' - eating in a supervised area. Two checks result in a phone call to the parents. For more serious offenses, the rules are rigid: Smoking on campus brings ``in-house suspension'' - studying under adult supervision - and fighting usually means a 4-hour session on Saturday.

``The students choose,'' says Skawski. ``It is their responsibility. We try to be fair and consistent.''

Greenway has had some reason to be firm. As recently as 1980, marijuana and alcohol were flourishing on campus: 111 students, close to 10 percent of the student body, were suspended during the year for drug or alcohol use. Some 2,270 kids were sent to the principal's office for discipline.