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Springwater principal: Shooting doesnt define school

Larry Bentz praises students and says one boy's actions shouldn't taint school
by: John Klicker, Springwater Trail High School Principal Larry Bentz talks about his school’s response to a student shooting the school on Tuesday, April 10.

Larry Bentz, principal at Springwater Trail High School in Gresham, said he knows some folks may perceive his school as a place for 'druggies' and 'losers.'

Yet, the school - founded in part to serve kids who feel they don't fit in at larger high schools - has virtually no disciplinary problems, he said.

'We only have four or five suspensions a year,' he said.

Indeed, the school's brochure notes that Springwater Trail is not a place for students 'with a history of discipline issues unrelated to a handicapping condition.' Instead, Bentz said, Springwater Trail, with its small class sizes and its stress on personal attention, is simply a place for students who might not thrive in a larger traditional academic setting.

'This is not a place where folks fall through the cracks,' Bentz said.

Yet, when Chad Escobedo, a freshman, allegedly fired two shots at second story classroom windows Tuesday, April 10, the school was thrust into the spotlight for reasons that had nothing to do with its approach to education.

Despite its unfortunate brush with fame this week, faculty, staff and students hope that the community does not define them by the incident, Bentz said.

'I think there's a determination not to let the actions of this unfortunate boy color the picture of the whole school to the community,' he said.

Bentz said that school officials saw no signs that the alleged shooter might be headed for such serious trouble.

'Never once in a conversation with staff or me did he express anger toward anyone in the building,' Bentz said.

The principal also expressed skepticism that Chad's alleged anger at two Springwater Trail teachers - a motive outlined in court documents - was enough to make him pick up a rifle. Instead, Bentz speculated that reported difficulties in Chad's home life - also referred to in court documents - played a more important role in his alleged actions.

'(This) is a bigger issue than a teacher calling home because you didn't turn in some assignments,' Bentz said.

The principal also said he could understand why some students, who reportedly knew that the defendant was allegedly planning something, didn't say anything about it to school staff.

'The reality is that adults don't like snitching on their friends either,' he said, noting, for example, that people don't always report child abuse by their neighbors or family members to authorities.

As for the school community itself, Bentz said that while some members have expressed anger with the alleged shooter, the community's greater feeling is sorrow that one of their own has come to such grief. He added that Tuesday's events hurt everyone, not just the students injured in the shooting.

'Everybody in this building was a victim of what occurred here,' he said. 'There are lots of people who are not sleeping well this week.'

Unfortunately, none of this is new to Bentz, who was principal of Thurston High School in Springfield in May 1998 when Kip Kinkel shot and killed his parents and two students, and wounded 25 others at the high school.

Bentz said his experience at Thurston enabled him to react more quickly and with more confidence this time when shooting began at Springwater Trail. Ironically, he said, a lockdown drill was scheduled for Tuesday, so the school was unwittingly prepared for the shooting.

He added that he is struck by the similarities between the Gresham and Springfield communities.

In both incidents, community members have come forward to comfort him and his staff and students, he said, noting the supportive cards, e-mails, flowers and visits from people to Springwater Trail since Tuesday.

'It's comforting to find the good that comes out of something so horrible,' he said.

He also complimented the Gresham Police Department and Gresham-Barlow School District authorities for their rapid response to the shooting. Authorities were on the scene in less than five minutes after being contacted by the school, he said.

Even more comforting is the fact that the shooting ended before anyone was more seriously hurt, he said.

'I'm not very happy that we went through this, but we're all still alive,' he said.

Bentz, who is set to retire at the end of the school year, said he might continue teaching part time, and that his decision to leave administrative life has nothing to do with the shooting this week, nor, for that matter, his reaction to what happened at Thurston in 1998.

In fact, he said, Tuesday's shooting only reaffirmed his desire to continue to work with young people. Springwater Trail's students acted calmly and responsibly during the incident, and some of them had to sit beneath their desks for three hours while awaiting evacuation, he said.

'People have to look past the pierced noses, the saggy pants and the blue hair,' he said of his teenaged charges. 'Actions speak louder than words. These kids spoke volumes by the way they acted Tuesday.'

More on Springwater Trail High

Springwater Trail High School, at 1440 S.E. Fleming Ave., is one of three public high schools in the Gresham-Barlow School District, along with Barlow and Gresham.

Springwater Trail is an accredited high school that offers the 'same exact diploma' as Barlow or Gresham, according to a school brochure.

Enrollment: 162 students, grades 9-12.

Class size: 15-20 students.

According to the brochure, Springwater Trail is for students who 'wish to pursue a different social setting in which to pursue their education' or who feel 'they don't 'fit in' at a large high school and might get lost in a larger setting.'

The school also enrolls students who have 'few connections to their home school, but (have) a desire to earn a high school diploma.'

Some students 'may have struggled with attendance in the past, but are willing to make a commitment to attend regularly and graduate from high school.'

Students may be 'slightly behind in credits but still within reach of graduating on time' or have 'special needs that are not beyond Springwater Trail's capacity to help.'

The brochure also states that Springwater Trail is 'NOT' for students seeking temporary placement in a school; with discipline issues unrelated to a handicapping condition; who need extensive in-school counseling or a therapy program; or who want 'an 'easy way out' of high school by attending a credit factory or a place where credits can be gained more easily than the larger high schools.'

For more information, call 503-667-4669, or visit http://stweb.gresham.k12.or.us/.