BERKELEY -- For the first time in years, fewer Berkeley High School students are bringing weapons to school and coming to school drunk and stoned, according to a new survey.
Administrators in the 9,000 student district are optimistic data in the California Healthy Kids Survey is the beginning of a downward trend. They hope the numbers are the fruit of policy changes around intervention and counseling, suspensions, truancy and gun safety measures implemented following seven gun incidents at Berkeley High School in 2011.
This year, 10 percent of 11th-graders, or about 84 students in that grade, said they brought a weapon, defined as a gun, knife or club, to school. That is down from 15 percent in 2010 and 15 percent in 2008.
The number of juniors coming to school drunk or stoned is down as well with 35 percent of 11th-graders reporting being drunk or high on school property. That is down from 48 percent in 2010 and 55 percent in 2008. Historically, those numbers have been twice the state average. Administrators did not provide comparisons to state averages this year.
"I was totally shocked, to be honest, to see the results because I did not think we would see that much improvement so soon," said Susan Craig, director of student services for the Berkeley school district. "We're pretty happy."
Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Scuderi said while the numbers are down for both weapons and drug and alcohol use on campus, "it's not a reason to be complacent."
"Marijuana use is down, but we still got considerable work there," Scuderi said.
Following the seven incidents last year where students were caught with guns at the high school, the district hired more security guards, got a police officer on campus five days a week, reduced the number of entrances to the school, hired people to monitor the entrances and put the monitors and security guards through more training.
"One of the reasons suspensions for fighting are down is that kids feel more comfortable walking up to the security guards and talking to them about a problem they may be having with another kid and that's part of the training we did with them," Scuderi said.
Craig said drug and alcohol use is down because of new policies in that area, too.
"The schools are doing a better job of following through when students are either in possession of, or are using marijuana or other substances," Craig said. "Last year they started applying consequences and doing interventions."
She said instead of suspending a student for three days where he can relax and smoke pot all day at home or get into other trouble, lsuch as burglarizing homes, the student instead is directed toward counseling or other interventions such as youth court, a police department program for harder cases or one-on-one counseling.
Another element that made a difference was a grant the district received from Alameda County to do drug and alcohol education in the middle and high schools, Craig said. And to keep kids in school, the district has cracked down on truancy by more closely monitoring absences and contacting parents.