Murphy's Law

Year after year, Murphy school district officials watched their students die in a hail of violence. They decided to take matters into their own hands.

The killings are what stick in the minds of teachers and administrators.

"I always listen when I hear of shootings on the news," says Virginia Alcocer, principal of the Garcia School in the Murphy Elementary School District. "And I say, 'Please don't let it be our area, please don't let it be kids from our schools.'"

But over the past decade, it often has been. "It seems like we've gone to one or two funerals every year," says Jeanetta Martinez, a fifth-grade teacher at Kuban School, who has taught in the district for more than 20 years.

Clay McAllester, principal at Kuban School.
Clay McAllester, principal at Kuban School.
Virginia Alcocer, principal at Garcia School.
Paolo Vescia
Virginia Alcocer, principal at Garcia School.
Robert Donofrio has been superintendent of the Murphy Elementary School District since 1986.
Paolo Vescia
Robert Donofrio has been superintendent of the Murphy Elementary School District since 1986.
Paolo Vescia
Rosaria Castañeda finishes lunch at Kuban School.
The Murphy school district takes in some of the city's most blighted areas.
New Times
The Murphy school district takes in some of the city's most blighted areas.
Paolo Vescia
Rogelio Aragón, a member of the "Wake-Up" schools club in Murphy district, skating at the Coliseum.
Ed Eisele, president of Holsum Bakery, in front of new houses being built in the Murphy area.
Paolo Vescia
Ed Eisele, president of Holsum Bakery, in front of new houses being built in the Murphy area.
Students attend an assembly at Hamilton School in the Murphy district.
Paolo Vescia
Students attend an assembly at Hamilton School in the Murphy district.
Victoria Hobein, Zayra Herrera and Karessa Rodriguez (from left) at Kuban School.
Paolo Vescia
Victoria Hobein, Zayra Herrera and Karessa Rodriguez (from left) at Kuban School.
Clay McAllester, principal at Kuban School.
Paolo Vescia
Clay McAllester, principal at Kuban School.

School officials and community leaders characterize what has gone on here and in other neighborhoods afflicted by gang and juvenile violence as a quiet massacre -- Columbine on the installment plan.

"Sometimes it makes the front pages," says Jose Leyba, superintendent of the neighboring Isaac Elementary School District, "but usually it shows up in a small box in the paper. These are mostly brown kids and black kids, so it doesn't bring the attention that other killings do."

The neighborhood straddling Murphy and part of the Isaac district, defined by the 85009 zip code, has consistently been among the top 10 areas in Maricopa County for juvenile crime and violence.

In the past seven years, 31 kids under age 19 have been killed there -- mostly with guns and about half because of gang violence. The dead include students and former students from schools in both districts. Another five youngsters have taken their own lives. By far, most of the victims have been Hispanic boys.

The killings haven't happened on school grounds, or provoked the public shock and soul-searching that followed the tragic killings of middle-class children at Colorado's Columbine High School and other predominantly white schools. (By comparison, the area of northeast Phoenix, defined by zip code 85254, bordering Scottsdale, has had one homicide and six suicides over the past seven years.)

In the largely Hispanic, impoverished Murphy and Isaac districts, the killings have come one and two at a time, usually at nights and on weekends.

"That's part of the problem with some of our troubled kids," says Leyba. "Monday through Friday we can keep an eye on them. But on the weekends, we can't control their environment. Unfortunately, the environment controls a lot of what they do."

Children have been killed at parties and parks, in cars, bedrooms, backyards and at a few of the area's many vacant lots. Some have been killed outside the area, when one gang has crossed another's path, or drug deals have gone bad.

"Usually what happens is you see a car wash," says Pamela Jones, curriculum director for the Murphy district, "because most of these families don't have the money to bury their children."

The toll reflects the enormity of the task facing schools in areas where protecting children has become as important as teaching them.

"Around here, it really has to be safety first," says Daniel Cooper, assistant principal at Murphy's Kuban Elementary School, at 31st Avenue and Sherman Street. "If our kids don't feel safe here, or the families don't feel safe here, the kids won't learn."

School officials and community leaders say the killings are also emblematic of the social vacuum in which Murphy, Isaac and many other school districts in hard-pressed communities must function.

That vacuum, experts say, comes from concentrations of poverty and families broken by abuse, alcoholism, transience, crime and drugs. Those factors have mixed with the easy accessibility of guns to produce numbing levels of violence.

"What's happening in these neighborhoods," says Michael McCort, a commander with the Phoenix Police Department who has studied gang violence and developed a violence prevention strategy for the city, "really requires a fundamental rethinking of our approaches. We spend a lot of money on hiring police officers. That may be a necessary thing to keep people safe. But we don't put enough into the kind of prevention this problem really needs."

In the Murphy area, that effort to rethink prevention has been going on for some time. Unlike anywhere else in Phoenix, it is the school district that has taken the lead.

For more than a decade, the district has scrambled for every available dime to expand the traditional schoolhouse role from that of teaching children to educating and caring for families.

It was the first inner-city district to sponsor comprehensive after-school programs; the first to house an office of the Arizona Department of Economic Security at a school; the first to host a satellite Boys and Girls Club; and the first to work with the City of Phoenix on what eventually became known as community policing.

Community leaders contend that it makes good sense to turn schools into all-purpose community and youth centers. Schools are where the children are. And in economically depressed districts like Murphy and Isaac, they are about the only public agencies in the neighborhoods.

However, years of inadequate funding by the state have left the schools barely equipped to cover basic academic standards, let alone assume the role of community organizer and protector. And traditionalists in education have resisted opening their schools to anything but basic education.

Robert Donofrio, Murphy's superintendent since 1986, says that schools and districts saddled with problems similar to his don't have much choice: "Our kids don't drop their emotional baggage at the schoolhouse door. They bring it right in with them.

"Some of the narrow thinkers said that all we were doing with the DES office was putting in a welfare center. But the fact is, if you can't stabilize a family in crisis, you can never teach the kid.

"So let me have the food stamps and bring in a job-training component. That way families can get emergency assistance and food stamps. They can get AHCCCS [state-funded medical care]. And their kids can get on with their education."

On any weekday afternoon, the rooms and playing fields at the district's four schools are usually hopping with some of the district's dozens of after-hours programs. They range from the extracurricular sports and clubs found at other Valley schools to the kinds of things usually found at a social services agency: English classes and family-development workshops and parenting classes. Sometimes in the evenings, the district offices become meeting rooms for neighborhood organizations. On Friday nights, the field house at Garcia School (27th Avenue and Buckeye Road) draws kids and adults alike from all over the area for "midnight basketball." And it isn't unusual to find the campuses open on weekends for other community workshops or events.

Over the past 10 years, school attendance rates and test scores in the district have been edging up, and the number of complaints against Murphy children to the Maricopa County Juvenile Court overall have been falling.

As good as his district's efforts have been, says Donofrio, they amount to just a patchwork attempt to fill the area's most glaring educational, cultural and social holes.

Patchwork or not, the district's commitment to community involvement, say many gang-prevention experts, is a model of what schools can and should do to ease the conditions that feed gangs and juvenile crime.

"If somebody could dissect what they're doing and make a template out of it," says McCort, "it would be one of the best approaches we could put together."

On a recent Saturday morning, while the gates to many other schools in high juvenile-crime areas of the city are closed and locked, Murphy's Garcia School is open. About 20 Hispanic families are gathered among the tables in its cafeteria. They are talking, eating and playing with one another as part of a two-day workshop sponsored by a family-service organization called Creciendo Unidos (Growing Together). The organization, which operates under the umbrella of Safe Haven Inc., a private nonprofit community development corporation in the Murphy neighborhood, brings Hispanic families together to learn to get along.

Guille Sastré, director of the program, says she developed it about five years ago to fill a gap in many prevention and intervention programs.

Manual Avitia, who lives in the area and came with his wife and two young children, says he heard about the program through the school. Sitting in the school's courtyard during a break, he says that the area has too much violence and too many drug dealers.

"I thought this would be good for many families in my neighborhood, so we can get along better and learn how to control our children without using violence. That's important for us now."

Sastré's organization is one of dozens that use the Murphy schools after hours. She comes here partly because of the need in the community, yet also because her shoestring budget can afford it. The Murphy district doesn't charge her a dime.

That isn't the way it works in other districts. This past summer, the Alhambra Elementary School District, which also covers parts of west Phoenix that have high rates of juvenile crime, charged the City of Phoenix more than $3,600 to run a summer recreation program at Westwood Elementary School.

Like Murphy, Alhambra has numerous after-school and prevention programs and is benefiting from a $348,000 federal education grant. But the district draws its purse strings tight when it comes to the community.

"We give community organizations free usage of the facilities," says Alhambra district superintendent Carol Peck. "But I don't think you could expect the school to pay for custodians' overtimes for weekends and evenings."

Donofrio has little patience for such thinking.

"We're talking about reaping millions of dollars in community resources and services for a couple thousand dollars of additional custodial time. What here at our schools doesn't already have to be cleaned? So what if there's some extra cost on the weekends?"

He says groups like Sastré's are as essential as teachers to the district's work. "They're helping us overcome these social, economic and educational barriers our kids face. They're assets. We need them here. They're helping me develop my mission for young people."

In the late 1980s, Donofrio discovered that former Murphy students were dropping out of Central and Carl Hayden high schools because the Phoenix Union High School District didn't -- and still doesn't -- provide transportation. City buses didn't come frequently enough to get them to school on time. He started his own bus service with district funds.

Many observers say Donofrio's willingness to broaden his schools' mission and share school facilities has been a key to the district's success with lowering juvenile crime rates and keeping kids in school.

For the past six years, the Garcia Business Partnership, headed by Holsum Bakery President Ed Eisele, has involved Fleming Foods, the Maricopa Juvenile Probation office and numerous others in projects at the Garcia school.

The district has been working closely with Safe Haven to create new housing in the neighborhood -- the first significant residential development to reach the area in a generation.

And many neighborhood leaders credit Donofrio and his colleagues with helping to spark the community coalitions and block watches that became active in the late 1980s.

"Bob's area is a good example of what can happen when you get more people involved," says McCort. "You have business teaming up with education and government pulling its role.

"And Bob also has the community. That's the hardest thing to do. If you can't get the community involved and find a way to maintain that, you're doomed to failure."


The Murphy district is a gritty 12-square-mile area that extends north from the Salt River to Van Buren Street, and west from 19th Avenue to 39th Avenue. It's split by Buckeye Road, one of the most notorious strips of drugs and prostitution in the city. The residential neighborhoods toward the Van Buren edge are checkered with dilapidation and occasional efforts to keep things tidy. South toward Buckeye and Durango Street, the district is an urban backstage filled with the ugly industrial props and services that cities need but neighborhoods don't want.

Few trees grow here, and few neighborhoods, either. The pockets of private residences, apartments and trailer parks are engulfed by trucking firms, used-tire outfits -- businesses that sprout overnight, then disappear weeks or months later -- and scrap yards where broken cars are stacked like so many crab shells above the rooflines of nearby buildings.

For many years, the area had no realistic city plan and no planning committee to represent the community's interests in zoning or development issues. While other neighborhoods had village planning committees and friendly names like North Mountain Village or Camelback East Village, Murphy and its surroundings were known at City Hall simply as Peripheral Area A.

Last year, after a decade of lobbying by Donofrio and neighborhood leaders, the city renamed the area Estrella Village and established a planning committee. More recently, the Phoenix City Council approved a village plan to guide future development.

Call it what you will, but Murphy remains a peripheral area. It has no safe parks, no library, no community centers. Its only food stores are Circle Ks.

The most prominent public facilities are the line of county juvenile and adult jails along Durango Street, the city's wastewater treatment plant and a solid waste transfer station near the river bottom.

The area is loaded with poverty, drugs, prostitution and homeless drifters trekking back and forth from the indigent services on Madison Street near the state Capitol to the Phoenix Rescue Mission at 35th Avenue south of Buckeye Road. Like other poor areas of the city, people walk long distances here because they have no cars. Mothers make their way along Buckeye or north through the neighborhood to buy food and other essentials on Van Buren, two or three young children straggling behind them.

The area, says one urban planner who works regularly with the city, is "Phoenix's model for slum development."

The real estate boom of the 1970s brought junky duplex and triplex apartments that later declined into some of the city's nastiest slums. In the 1980s, they festered into busy fencing and drug operations.

During that same period, the city regularly rezoned Murphy's residential neighborhoods into industrial property, turning the area into the Valley's auto scrap yard and junk heap.

"The assumption at the city," says Conrad Spohnholz, who heads Safe Haven, which has been building new homes for low-income workers in the community, "was that the area was going to go industrial. That industrial thrust would force out the occupants, so there would be no need for residential property."

But it hasn't worked out that way. A steady flow of impoverished immigrants into the district has given it as many students today, about 2,500, as it had 20 years ago.

Such issues might seem far removed from academic achievement. But Donofrio links them to the education and welfare of the district's families, and the long-term fight against gangs and juvenile crime.

"A lot of people don't understand," he says, "that you cannot deal with gangs unless you're dealing with economic renewal. Gangs fester on the poverty and hopelessness out there. And they move in wherever you have the kind of family instability that leads kids to gravitate toward adoptive families, which is what gangs really are."


When Donofrio arrived in the district as a special education teacher in the early 1970s -- a longhaired, blue-collar kid from central New Jersey -- Murphy had the friendly feel of an old-fashioned neighborhood.

"It was poor then," he says. "But there wasn't any fear."

After 12-hour days, he'd go over to the Coffelt Community Center and play basketball. And people would come out.

"They wouldn't let me go home," he says, smiling. "They'd say, 'Aaah, come on over and have a burrito.' People knew each other, and they cared."

The massive influx of crack cocaine and crime in the 1980s chased the neighborhood indoors. "People just hid," says Donofrio. "And it became 'see no evil, hear no evil.'"

Those troubles have only compounded the many educational ones that Murphy faces.

In 1989, the Arizona Department of Education ranked Murphy as the third most "at-risk" non-Indian school district in the state.

The so-called risk factors have only worsened since then.

"We've got some nasty poverty down here," says Donofrio. "We've got about 95 percent, or something like that, who qualify for free or reduced lunches. We've got a low literacy level. We've got a lot of impoverished single-headed households.

"And we have a notorious problem down here with kids baby-sitting for other kids. A lot of 8-year-olds are going home from school to take care of their 3- and 4-year-old brothers and sisters."

Donofrio and other officials can only guess at the number of undocumented immigrants attending Murphy schools. But they say that more than 50 percent of the children -- documented and undocumented -- come to school with little English proficiency. And there has been a disturbing trend in recent years of a small yet growing percentage of incoming students -- less than 10 percent now -- who don't test literate in any language. Many are coming from the rural communities of Mexico.

The mobility rate of students is also high, considered an indicator of problems by educational experts. Last year, more than half of the students who ended the year at Murphy schools weren't there at the beginning.

Donofrio says he tracked one of the district's four entering kindergarten classes from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s and found that by the time those kindergarten students reached the eighth grade, only 26 of the original group of 330 were still in Murphy schools.

In 1993, the state Department of Education placed a couple of Murphy's schools on probation for poor test scores. The scores hovered in the teens and low 20s, while the state average that year was in the 40s.

At the state's urging, Donofrio brought in Mary Belle McCorkle, president of the Tucson Unified School District and an educational consultant.

"Bob told me he'd done all he could do to add resources outside the classroom, and that he was convinced the real problem existed in the classroom."

What she encountered, she says, was a district with "a group of teachers who in many cases had given up. They felt like the job was so impossible, they just got through the day."

"The kids were doing drugs. The homes didn't have the support the kids needed," McCorkle says. "There was danger in the neighborhood. The kids came to school hungry, without clothing -- all the ingredients of poverty."

She focused on developing the curriculum and bringing some consistency to how the schools approached literacy.

She says it's fairly easy for teachers in impoverished districts to "get into the syndrome of thinking: these poor kids, this poor neighborhood."

"The minute you start that 'poor kids' stuff, you tend to lose the expectations they need to succeed," she says. "The fact is, they can rise to the occasion, but they need a hell of a lot of support to do it."

She says the community-school model that Donofrio has built provides that.

Donofrio says the model was shaped by community need.

"When you look around down here, it's pretty obvious that we don't have what a lot of other places would consider normal amenities or services. They're just not here."

Donofrio says that one of Murphy's biggest problems in the 1980s was that there weren't many after-school programs.

(In the early '80s, the city eliminated after-school programs in a financial dispute with schools over sanitation fees. The loss of programs came at the same time street gangs were rapidly expanding in the Valley and many kids turned to gangs for lack of other alternatives ("Net Loss," September 16).

"Kids were easy prey," says Donofrio. "They were just hanging on the streets, with the pushers and everyone else out there to entice them. We figured if we could minimize the time latchkey kids spend alone, we could start to win this battle."

The district started changing that in 1988, when it landed a five-year, $2.5 million Drug Free Schools and Community Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The money was intended to reduce the prevalence of drugs in communities. It enabled Murphy to lay the groundwork for many of the partnerships with local businesses and other organizations that exist today.

The district used some of the money to help create neighborhood organizations that began tackling local blight and crime.

"The fear factor was huge," says Donofrio. "I had neighborhood activists whose car was firebombed. And we were never able to get more than a handful of leaders. The burnout rate was huge."

Jennie Navarro, who sent six children through Murphy schools and has lived in the neighborhood for 31 years, says it's still difficult to get people involved.

She recalls that she and a handful of other neighbors joined the efforts because drugs and violence had made the community a desperate place. "The killings and the drugs made it hard for families to stay here."

Navarro notes that another obstacle to community involvement has been the political divisiveness that erupted in the area in the mid-1990s. In 1996, three members of the Murphy school board were recalled from their posts. Ever since, a vocal minority led by Elena "Helen" Madrid, one of the recalled members, has been lobbing charges at Donofrio and the district. Among other things, Madrid and her allies say that Donofrio intimidates people.

The federal grant allowed the school district to bolster police enforcement efforts and to initiate neighborhood cleanups of trash-strewn alleys and vacant lots.

The grant also bought the district numerous after-school and summer programs.

"We told the grant administrators, 'Look, we've got all these drug education and just-say-no programs in school. What about giving kids structured, supervised activities after school?'" says Donofrio. "It seemed obvious to us that one of the reasons young people get involved in drugs is that they don't have anything to do."

When the federal money ran out in 1993, the Phoenix Parks, Recreation and Library Department started its own after-school programs.

Around the same time, Ed Eisele of Holsum Bakery, located not far from Garcia School, approached Donofrio about the idea of forming a business partnership to help the district.

Eisele, who is a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership, the group of influential business and corporate leaders formerly called the Phoenix 40, says the 1992 Los Angeles riots had made him wonder "what the flash point was going to be for us. I wasn't sure what we should be thinking about in the way of prevention."

Eisele says that, up until then, he was the personification of the Detached Businessman. His company had donated lots of products to charities that feed the poor. But he had driven in and out of the neighborhood around the bakery without ever paying much attention to it. When he finally took a good look, he saw an area that was suffering from severe neglect. Even stop signs and other basic items were missing.

On a recent tour of the neighborhood, Eisele pulls his car over on 23rd Avenue -- the access road beside I-17 -- at Lincoln Street, and points to a dirt-covered strip beside the road.

"That may not look like much. But it took four friggin' years to get the city and SRP to fill in the ditch that had been there. Four friggin' years.

"I used to watch people in these little motorized wheelchairs having to roll out into the street to get by there."

Eisele says that in addition to rousting criminals and tearing down dilapidated dwellings that had become nests for illicit activities, the area badly needs more safe places for children to go.

"That really hit home one day," he says, "when folks from the Maricopa County Juvenile Detention facility, one of the business partners at Garcia School, told us that the preponderance of juvenile crime occurred between 3 and 8 p.m. And by the way, that's also the time when most unwed teenage mothers become mothers."

Eisele called Rick Miller, then director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, and broached the idea of the organization opening a satellite club at Garcia School.

Miller says it wasn't difficult to see the logic of it. The facilities are already built and paid for. Schools provide ready access to children -- minimizing the problem of transportation which often prevents kids from getting to after-hours programs.

The arrangement also saves money.

Boys and Girls Club officials say it normally takes about as much as $2 million to build a stand-alone club and another $400,000 a year to operate it.

The Garcia Club, which opened in the summer of 1995 and averages 100 children in its daily after-school program, costs only $73,000 a year to run because it shares expenses with the school.

That compares to the $54,000 a year it costs to detain one juvenile in a detention facility.

It's a comparison that has particular relevance for Murphy schools.

Eisele notes that the number of juvenile complaints against kids at Garcia began falling the year the Boys and Girls Club opened. The year before, in 1995, there were 38 complaints against children. In 1996, that total plummeted to 16.

Over the past decade, complaints against juveniles throughout the district have dropped from about 225 to as low as 124 in 1997.

The delinquency rate drifted upward in the past year -- to 151 complaints. It's something that Donofrio and others are watching closely; they don't know why it went up.

Such statistics aren't lost on the children or parents of Murphy schools. Before they talk about the fun and educational benefits of after-school activities, they commend the schools for keeping children safe and out of trouble. The schools are seen as neighborhood oases for children.

On almost any afternoon, one can find former Murphy students who have moved on to Carl Hayden and Central high schools hanging around the field house at Garcia School.

Many more come back for the midnight basketball program that runs on Friday nights. Kids say they come back to the school mostly because it's a place they feel safe.

"We feel at home here," says Daniel, a teen who was hanging out with about six other boys on a recent Thursday afternoon.

All of the boys say they know someone who has been shot or stabbed. They say there's too much violence, but they don't know what they can do about it.

They also come to the gym because there is no other in the area. They wish there was a safe park with a teen center nearby.

So do Karessa Rodriguez, Victoria Hobein and Zayra Herrera, seventh-graders at Kuban School -- north of Buckeye Road, not far from Garcia.

They say after-school programs are fine for younger children, but they want something more for older kids.

The programs, says Victoria, "help out parents who have to work, so they can get you more things that you need. They also give us a chance to do homework."

Victoria spends most of her summer days at the Homes branch Boys and Girls Club at Sherman Street near 17th Avenue. But she prefers the after-school programs at Kuban during the school year.

"Right now we're playing volleyball," she says.

Karessa prefers acting. Last summer, she attended a daily arts workshop at Kuban, funded with a "Project Intervention" grant from the Governor's Office. She says she performed in a play.

Zayra likes the folk dance program that had been part of Kuban's summer arts activities.

All three of the girls are participating in the Phoenix Police Department's "Wake-Up" club at Kuban, a promising program in which seventh- and eighth-graders carry out school- and community-service projects, and try to raise funds for special events and field trips for themselves.

The problem, says Karessa, is that older kids -- eighth-graders -- "think they're too good to go to the after-school program. They think they're just for little kids."

Attendance numbers bear that out. The after-school participation rate at Murphy schools falls when it comes to older children, plummeting along with puberty.

Jemeille Ackourey, vice president of operations at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, says schools and other organizations like hers struggle constantly with how to involve more older kids. That's especially true with children who show signs of gravitating toward the street.

"The kids we're trying to attract and need to attract are typically the kids that aren't doing well in school. But the last thing they want to do is spend any more time there. They want their own space. They want a place of their own."

Some of the boys and girls say they've gone to the Carl Hayden Community Youth Center, on Van Buren near 31st Avenue. But they'd prefer to have a closer center, with a greater variety of programs. All agree they'd like to have more of a hand in determining the programs and activities.

They also think there's plenty of vacant land on which to build one.

Eisele has bought three empty lots at 24th Avenue and Hadley where he hopes he can convince the city to build a pocket park. He and others say the city has been resisting the idea. But he doesn't intend to give up.

"These folks down here have no place to go. There's no swing set for kids. They don't have money for swing sets in their own yards. And the nearest park is too far away to be convenient."

Neighborhood leaders say city parks staff have told them it will be well into the next century before they can expect a park.

City councilman Doug Lingner, who has represented the Murphy area in District 7 since 1995, says a park is needed. But, he cautions, pocket parks can become gang turf.

Eisele's three lots may be too small for a park. "I'm not saying people wouldn't use that park, but the money is so scarce we've got to get the biggest bang for the buck," says Lingner.

But the biggest issue, he says, "is that the neighborhood has been so split up between housing and industrial that it's hard to find a good site."

Once a site is found, Buckeye Road and other major streets in the area often serve as barriers to kids. He wants the city to consider a park on the seven empty acres adjacent to Kuban School.

Whichever plan emerges won't be built without voter approval of the next bond package, which Lingner says is expected to be decided in October 2000.


Since 1993, after citizen activists finally got the city's attention, the city has pumped more than $7 million into 90 after-school programs. Recently, city officials have also identified gaps in youth services, largely on the west side. That's led to a commitment by the city council to add another $2.4 million for after-hours programs at 90 more school and park sites in the next three years.

Many educators and city officials acknowledge that both schools and cities are playing catch-up after years of neglect.

Jose Leyba credits the city for its recent investments. But he says that the patchwork of programs amounts "to Band-Aids on the problem -- a lot of short-term fixes. The after-school programs make the difference for some kids. But other children need much more. We need family programs. And we just don't have the resources for those."

A New Times examination of programs in the more than a dozen school districts working in areas with the highest rates of juvenile crime bears Leyba out ("Net Loss," September 16).

The survey, conducted over the summer, revealed significant disparities in available programs, and a haphazard patchwork of inconsistent funding supporting them. The patchwork reflects the prevailing lack of public-policy focus about what communities and children need.

Schools in impoverished areas tend to rely exclusively on outside sources of funds and services to run their programs, if they have them at all. Few districts can say how many children are involved in those programs, or how much the programs cost.

Several districts in troubled neighborhoods -- notably the Roosevelt Elementary, Wilson Elementary and Cartwright Elementary school districts -- could not provide any substantive information about their schools' programs.

The number and quality of available programs vary enormously. Some schools have extracurricular "no-cut" sports programs that involve many children. Others have only "cut" sports where limited numbers of children play only if they can make the team.

Ryan Johnson, a senior policy analyst at the Morrison Institute of Public Policy, recently completed a study of after-school and nontraditional school-hour programs as part of the Violence Prevention Initiative, an effort by numerous local governments and private organizations to increase funding and programming for violence prevention in Arizona. He says the situation with after-school programs is a complex and confusing mix of "the haves, have-nots, and the piece-it-togethers."

"Most of the schools I've talked to are the piece-it-togethers," he says. "They make things happen somehow. They go to the community. They ask for 5,000 bucks from some business. Jerry Colangelo out of nowhere drops them a bunch of school uniforms. They rob the field-trip budget. They ask teachers to volunteer. And somehow or other they manage to pull it off. Others have an abundance of programs."

Most, but not all, of the inequities boil down to money.

The Kyrene Elementary School District, a perennial example of a well-funded local school system, bordering Chandler and south Tempe, has a full menu of after-hours programs supported primarily by fees paid by parents. District officials say they provide scholarships for children whose families can't afford the fees.

Less affluent districts, like Murphy, Phoenix Elementary, Isaac and Alhambra, scramble to keep programs afloat. They rely heavily on grants and other outside help.

City officials and community leaders say that some schools resist hosting or developing extensive after-hours programs because administrators simply haven't embraced them.

This year, Maryvale High School, in the Phoenix neighborhood with the Valley's highest rate of juvenile crime, refused an offer from the Phoenix Youth at Risk Foundation for a program that works with troubled youngsters over the course of the school year. The foundation raised the $50,000 to operate the program; all the high school had to do was provide a room for weekly meetings, and allow a teacher or counselor to attend the three-day program orientation.

A spokesman for the Maryvale school says the school wants the program but simply couldn't implement it this year. The foundation gave it to Camelback High School instead.

In 1997, the Arizona Legislature approved a tax credit for people who contribute to after-school programs. The credit allows a deduction of up to $200 to public schools and $500 to private schools.

But many educators say that the tax credit may only magnify the inequities between schools in wealth areas and those in low-income neighborhoods. State documents show that in 1998, the first year the credit was allowed, several schools in the Kyrene elementary school district each received more in contributions than all of the schools in the Murphy and Isaac districts combined.

ASU's Johnson says many after-hours programs depend on creative financing and budgeting. Often, to support them, school administrators have to rob other parts of the school budgets, and rely on volunteers and special grants.

By any measure, the Murphy district exemplifies a "have not" school that, through aggressive scrambling for funds and programs, has turned itself into a "have."

Donofrio says that scramble never ends. This year is the last of the five-year grant that pays for the Boys and Girls Club at Garcia School.

"Unless we pull another rabbit out of our hat, that program could go away," he says. "All I'm going to tell them [Boys and Girls Club officials] is that this has been a model program. But I can't spend district money on it. I just don't have it."

Jemeille Ackourey of the Boys and Girls Clubs says her organization won't "fold up shop and say our commitment is done."

"I can guarantee that's not going to happen. But as far as what our game plan is for next year, we do not have one. We're going to have to write grants and work with Safe Haven to find more funds."

Murphy's school-as-community-center model clearly isn't for everyone. Traditionalists view it as too much social work, and a distraction from the real role of educators and schools.

Deborah Dillon, education program coordinator for the City of Phoenix, says that part of the problem many schools have with taking on all sorts of extracurricular matters is "they're not evaluated on how many after-school or anti-gang or anti-teen-pregnancy programs they have."

They're evaluated on test scores.

"So even though those other things are important," says Dillon, "they often wind up not being a school's priority."

Margaret Dugan, principal at Glendale High School, is one school official who's convinced that schools aren't equipped to raise kids and teach them, too.

"That's what families and churches are there for," she says. "Someone just needs to say, 'Hey, that's your responsibility and let us, the schools, get back to doing what we're supposed to do: educate children to read and write.'"

Dugan, who began her teaching career in 1973 at what is now Garcia School in the Murphy district -- long before Donofrio's tenure as superintendent -- says she doesn't have much time or patience for anti-gang, anti-teen-pregnancy or other programs that shift the school's focus from educating to moralizing.

"I've told people I don't want to do that," she says. "Because if we start being a social agency and asking, 'Okay, who got fed,' then we're going to worry about having a breakfast, a lunch, about getting clothes, and then all of a sudden we've forgotten we're supposed to be teaching these kids algebra."

Like other educators who resist being social saviors, Dugan is convinced that "one of the problems in education is that we're trying to do it all."

"I know there are people out there who say the kids are hungry and this and that. But I say, yeah, that's true, but what are you going to do, be with them 365 days a year? I don't believe that's our job."

As a result, says Dugan, Glendale High School, which draws students from an area that had the sixth highest juvenile crime rate in the Valley last year, has no formal gang intervention program. But it does have extracurricular activities.

Pamela Jones, Murphy's curriculum director, wishes the Murphy district could afford to take that view.

"But we can't run our schools without taking care of the people who attend them. We can't. We wouldn't have a school."

Jose Leyba of the Isaac district says the reality is that increasing numbers of students are entering school with serious social problems.

Says Leyba, "We see so many who lack the basics not just in how to learn but also how to socialize with other children."

Jones points out that Murphy screens all of its kindergarten students. "What we're finding is we have kids who have never seen a pencil, who actually don't know how to pick up a pencil. We have kids who can't tell you what the cover of a book is. They can't even tell you if a book is upside down or not."

Leyba says those disturbing trends signify more than just an educational problem. "What they tell me is we have kids, young kids, who aren't getting the nurturing they need at home, who don't have parents spending time with them and helping them."

But Glendale's Dugan contends that those issues too easily become excuses for educators.

Even in the Murphy district, some educators are wary about the educational cost of balancing those harsh realities with the need to raise test scores.

"I'll be honest with you," says Clay McAllester, principal at Kuban School. "We butt heads with Bob sometimes when it [extracurricular programs] starts to impede on instruction. Because we're of the philosophy that our job is to educate children."

A number of parents say the Murphy schools' academic achievements still aren't what they should be.

"I think we tended to hide behind excuses," says Kuban's assistant principal Dan Cooper. "There was a time that we felt that a reason we didn't do so well on test scores was the kids were in and out of school so much."

But the schools tracked the effect of mobility on test scores, he says, "and we found that kids coming in and out were doing about the same as kids who were here continuously."

But Donofrio and others say the real problem with transience for kids is that they aren't able to form lasting relationships with peers and teachers.

Those relationships are why Lisa Acosta brings her daughter, Victoria Hobein, to Kuban from their home across town at 16th Street and Baseline Road. Although she lives down the street from an elementary school in the Roosevelt School District, Acosta takes her children to Kuban because, she says, they're in better hands there.

"When they were at Roosevelt, I was getting calls from the school saying you have to come pick up your children, we've had a drive-by, or, we've had threats. We shouldn't be having problems like that."

One morning several years ago, she saw a jumble of kids roughing up a child in an open field beside the school. She got out of the car and yelled at them to stop. When the dust cleared, she saw that her son, an epileptic, was at the bottom of the heap.

"The kids were kicking him because he had caught the football and wouldn't throw it to someone else."

She says school officials didn't seem interested in dealing with matters like that.

People wonder if she's scared, taking her children to school in the Murphy district. "But I'm very comfortable with the school," Acosta says.

She has reason to be.

As a child, she attended what was then Garcia School. "I came from a troubled family that bounced me around in foster care," she says. "Then I got into Mrs. Hobein's special education class and we bonded."

Pat Hobein, now a teacher at Kuban, legally adopted Acosta.

Acosta's is a one-in-a-million tale. Yet it underscores what many gang-prevention specialists and educators say the troubled kids need, both in school and out, to avoid falling victim to the violence in the area.

"Basically, our kids need good, strong relationships," says Donofrio. "You can't disconnect them from their families. There probably isn't an after-school program in the country that can take the place of a long-lasting, nurturing family."

That's the problem in Murphy and elsewhere. "Once the school doors and programs close," says Donofrio, "these kids still have to go home."

See previous stories in the Hard Core series HERE

Contact Edward Lebow at his online address: elebow@newtimes.com

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