Anarchy is no way to run a high school, yet that appears to have been standard operating procedure at Thames River Academy, the alternative high school for the Norwich Public School district.
No one should minimize the challenges this alternative high school faces. Its charge is to educate students who, for whatever reasons - poor academic performance, special needs, emotional problems - do not attend the Norwich Free Academy, designated as the regular high school for Norwich students.
But whatever the challenge, there is no excuse for the situation uncovered by the Resiliency Foundation, a consultant hired by the state to take a close look at TRA because of abysmally low Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) scores and appalling graduation rates. During the four-year period ending in spring 2010, 75 students attended the school but only 25 graduated.
Undeterred by the outside observers evaluating their school, students in class listened to their MP3 players, earphones blocking out teachers, while others sent text messages and talked on mobile phones. Students lingered in hallways when they were supposed to be in class. Consultants "observed incidents of students surfing sexually inappropriate websites during class time."
There was little respect for teachers, much crass language and a wide-scale disregard for dress policy.
Superintendent Abby Dolliver placed Principal Edward Derr on administrative leave Feb. 16. Students say they want their principal back. Little wonder.
The consultants found a school "widely neglected by the Norwich District central office and Board of Education."
A complete restart is necessary. The school board needs to establish clear goals for TRA and policies to achieve them. Partnerships with businesses and civic groups are needed to provide the students some vision of life beyond school. Expectations must be raised and discipline re-established.
Problems this extensive take years to develop and will not be easily reversed. But having recognized the ugly truth, the administration and school board can start the process.