Michael Niggli stood in front of more than 50 students and parents in the Waltrip High School band hall Monday night, hearing concerns and answering questions during a meeting that lasted 90 minutes. The school’s first-year principal was backed by Jorge Arredondo, an area superintendent for Houston ISD who provided several responses of his own.
Much of the conversation centered around campus safety near the end of a school year that, according to multiple teachers and parents, has been marred by fights among students. Niggli said there had been physical altercations each of the previous two Fridays, including a multiple-student melee in a gym that was captured on video and shared on social media.
Around the same time that school let out last Friday, the Houston Police Department responded to a report of kids fighting at nearby Oak Forest Park.
“I hear you all. We’ve said enough is enough,” Arredondo told the crowd at the meeting, which was requested by the booster club for Waltrip’s band. “We want to make sure we’re here and making progress toward that end. We’re putting things that are already in place, some short-term things and some long-term things, to make sure that happens.”
In the aftermath of the April 26 brawl in the gym, which Niggli said started as a “fight over a girl” and was instigated by students who have since been transferred to an alternative school, Waltrip is trying to beef up security and change the conditions on campus that enabled the fight to materialize.
Niggli said he has expanded duty hours for the staff members assigned to monitor the gym and decided to add a second lunch period next school year. All 1,800-plus Waltrip students eat lunch during the same hour this school year, which Niggli said has forced some students to eat outside of a crowded cafeteria.
The principal also has pushed for a second HISD police officer to patrol the campus. Niggli said Waltrip began the school year with two, but the district reassigned one of them to another school in November.
Niggli said a second officer came to campus during some lunch periods last week. Beginning next school year, Arredondo said HISD plans to have a two officers at Waltrip on a regular basis.
“I would say that our school should have two,” Niggli said. “I definitely want to have two officers to start out next school year, and then we can see if the budget would permit maybe a part-time one.”
To be more receptive to community concerns, Niggli also is holding “Coffee with the Principal” events in the school library. The first two one-hour sessions are scheduled for 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Monday.
At the meeting earlier this week, multiple parents complained about not receiving notification from the school or district regarding campus fights, saying they hear about such incidents only from their children. Arredondo said HISD sends automated alerts if there is a verifiable threat and a campus is placed on lockdown, but generally not for student fights.
However, Arredondo said he would relay the parents’ request to the district administration.
“We’re hearing you all,” he said, “and we definitely can go back and talk about that.”
One Waltrip parent asked Niggli about fostering a campus environment where students feel more supported to report bullying and other issues. Another asked administrators to invest more in school programs that promote good behavior and camaraderie, such as the band and athletic teams, and apply the principles they use to other facets of the school.
Adam Ramirez, in his seventh year as a teacher and coach at Waltrip, asked for more training for staffers assigned to monitor areas around campus. He also asked the administration to examine the root causes of fighting, or disruptive behavior or poor attendance, instead of merely reacting to those problems.
“I know from talking to my students and athletes, the morale at Waltrip is the lowest it’s ever been since I’ve been here,” Ramirez said. “Why is it like that? Those are the type of things we’ve got to figure out. And teacher-wise, morale is low. I’ll be honest. It’s low.
“So what do we need to do to pick it up? If teachers don’t want to be here, the kids are not going to want to be here. It trickles down on everybody.”