Time Well Spent

by Dr. William H. Dodson

I was Superintendent of the Pearl Public Schools in Pearl, Mississippi, when the first major school shooting occurred in America on October 1, 1997, in my home district. At that time a 16-year-old student named Luke Woodham killed two of his classmates and injured seven others as they tried to flee from his shooting frenzy. Although my Transportation Director gave me a full account of what had occurred as we drove from the Central Office to the school after the tragedy, it was not enough to prepare me for what I was about to see.

That tragedy has both shaped and overshadowed my professional career and has consumed portions of my personal life. I have analyzed the circumstances and conditions that turned a high-school sophomore into a murderer. I have investigated the lives, past and present, of those involved in the incident.

I sought out Luke Woodham in the Mississippi State Prison to ask him the question that plagued me for a decade: Was there anything I could have done as school superintendent to have prevented what happened? His answer: “No sir, I don’t think so.” But, if there was nothing I could have done, then who could have intervened? What action could have been taken? How had my student wound up here?

There are common characteristics that make up the profile of those who commit these acts of violence. The urgency is to set up programs and policies in the school districts to identify and help before the violence occurs. In identifying the “troubled youth”, those individuals who may commit acts of violence have a common characteristic of loneliness, not having friends, lack of self-worth and, often, poor family support. These characteristics are not limited by color, age or gender. The students maybe from poor or affluent backgrounds. The troubled youth is often bullied by others and made to feel inferior. These youth frequently scream silently for help, yet in our busy world and society, they are not heard; consequently they lash out in violent ways.

What can be done? Many things can have a definitive and positive affect in turning a troubled youth in the right direction and insuring that school campuses are safe.

Intervention involves the involvement of many programs we used after our incident. Noteworthy of these interventions were character education in the lower grades, school uniforms, conflict resolution, school safety emphasis and religious education within legal guidelines.

Counselors in schools need to spend more time counseling students and less time with non-related duties such as testing and working with master schedules. Each student needs to feel “important”. Each student needs to have a support system at home and at school.

One of the most valuable components to making a situation better and making a difference in a young person’s life is the act of giving individual time to a troubled student on the school campus. The “gift of time” can cure ills and often prevent a catastrophe episode. Children spend more waking hours in school than any other place; therefore more individual time spent with them on a school campus could become the solution in deterring a violent act.

There is great urgency to set up programs and policies in school districts and communities to identify and deter violence. A full description of helpful suggestions is outlined in my book, “If Only I Had Known”. I would encourage you to read this book. It is designed for schools and communities – for parents and all interested individuals.

Our youth is our FUTURE, our contribution of “time” spent with these individuals is time well invested.

If Only I Had Known can be purchased on Amazon.com or by contacting:
Dr. William H. Dodson / whdodson@bellsouth.net