If you cause trouble or skip school, your principal might suspend you.
Do it often enough, and the superintendent might suspend you.
Keep it up, and you'll wind up at Alternative High School.
Alternative High represents the end of the line for many of the city's most troubled students. The school is supposed to help straighten kids out, but it doesn't succeed often enough.
Here are the precise words of eight senior administrators and eight principals in a confidential report on Alternative High issued in 1992:
Weakness of present program:
High dropout rate.
Unmotivated staff (lack training in dealing with at-risk students).
Serves only delinquent students.
Insufficient supplies, books.
Insufficient security, counseling and guidance services.
Insufficient program offerings (limited choice of courses to study).
Satellites are run down and depressing looking.
Program is only half-day. Students leave early and cause problems at other schools and in the community.
Alternative is supposed to provide personal guidance and instruction over a six-to-12-week period for students with behavior or attendance problems. Once they've completed the program in one of eight locations, students are returned to a regular school, usually not the one they were suspended from.
The school staff points out that only 15 percent of Alternative students are later returned to Alternative because of continuing problems.
"I think the school is a success in the way the school deals individually with students," says Raymond Perreault, the fourth principal in the past 10 years. "We've seen changes in kids we can't believe."
But Perreault says he needs more guidance counselors, among other things.
"We need to bring in outside agencies to assist us," he said. "We have to give the kids more options to take away the pull of the street. The pull of the street is stronger than gravity."
Many principals and teachers around the district are frustrated by the system's failure to deal with problem students, be it at Alternative or in other programs.
"There's a merry-go-round," said Lloyd Elm, principal of School 19, the Native American magnet school. "These kids can be helped, but not in this system. There's no intervention."
"Students go from school to school to school and you never solve the problem," added Anthony Palano, principal of the Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute.