Originally published Oct. 21, 2011
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) pledged to work with students, parents and faculty to fix problems at the school, including a run-down athletic field, a dearth of computers and after-school activities and problems with bullying.
"I'm going to become your guardian angel," Speier told a small group of students, parents and faculty members at a special meeting Friday morning.
Speier, a Parkway alumnus, said she feels a special connection with the school she attended between 1962 and 1964.
"When I was here, this was a top-notch school," Speier said. "We had woodshop, we had home ec, we had a newspaper."
As a student, Speier was editor-in-chief of that newspaper, the Panther Scream. She told the students her journalism teacher used to call her "chief."
"It made me feel like I was someone," Speier said.
These days, Parkway doesn't have a newspaper; Principal Stephen Redmond said he'd like to bring it back, but this year it was more important to channel resources to academic classes.
In recent years, Parkway hasn't met federal benchmarks on standardized tests. Though Parkway's test scores increased last year, the school remains in Year 5 of Program Improvement, which means the school must implement restructuring plans for achievement. The school has disproportionately high populations of English learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
But Speier's trip to Parkway wasn't motivated by test scores, but by concerns about an increase in community violence.
In September, Joseph Maharaj, 14, a South San Francisco High School student and Parkway alumnus, was killed in a drive-by shooting while hanging out with friends near his home in Old Town. Parkway math teacher Stacy Russell approached Speier about her fears that precursors to gang activity were starting in middle school, leading Speier to make a special trip to the school.
Half of the eight students at the meeting knew Maharaj.
"He was a really nice guy," said a student named Jose. "He sat next to me in algebra and always talked to me. We always did our homework together."
The students agreed that Parkway doesn't have an active gang problem, but it does have a problem with bullies.
"My son has come to me a couple times saying he's scared," said mother Olga Patino. "I wanted to tell Mr. Redmond, but he said, 'Mom, please don't tell him. I'm going to get beat up.'"
Some students and faculty believe that bullying may lay the groundwork for future gang involvement.
"Whatever they do in middle school, they use it as a record, and if they're trying to get into a gang, they can say what they did," said Jesus, an eighth-grader.
The students agreed that more after-school and elective activities would help keep kids occupied and out of trouble. Speier asked them to create a list of demands and pledged to try to raise funds by approaching local pharmaceutical companies to sponsor improvements.
One of the top concerns was the poor quality of the athletic field, which is uneven and unsafe to play on, so students play football and soccer on the blacktop. Teacher Stacy Russell, also a Parkway alumnus, said the field has been a problem since she was a student.
"Sometimes I look around, and it breaks my heart," Russell said. "I still have a scar on my knee from playing on the blacktop and falling on glass."
Speier asked the students to create a list of demands by Halloween. She said her staff will work with them it, and at a future date she'll hold a large meeting with students and parents. She also pledged to address her concerns about gang activity with city officials.
"We're going to find ways to make this a campus you can really be proud of," Speier said.