In a school, it can be the little things that mean the most, particularly at a place like South Philadelphia High.

For years, Room 101 was the teachers mail room, an underused first-floor space that accumulated boxes and dust.

Now, it's being transformed into something else: a parent resource center.

And, perhaps, into a symbol of change at a school best known for the anti-Asian violence of Dec. 3.

Parents who have children at Southern, as the school is called, have not always felt welcome. That unease crystallized March 16, when the mother of an Asian student said she was turned away after her son was assaulted.

On Tuesday night, at Southern's Open House and report-card conference, new principal Otis Hackney will cut a ribbon to formally dedicate the parent center - and to begin what he wants to be an era of closer, warmer relations with parents and guardians.

His idea was to establish a space where parents who come to the school can sit and relax while the person they wish to see is summoned. Where parents can have easy access to computers and online services, important in a poorer neighborhood. Where small children who arrive with mothers or fathers can find a book to read and a seat at a rightsize table.

"First and foremost is to create a positive environment for my parents," Hackney said Monday. "It doesn't always have to be 'Wait in the dean's office' or 'Wait in the principal's office.' We're creating an environment that's more supportive."

That would be a step forward.

On Dec. 3 - the first anniversary now days away - 30 Asian students were attacked by groups of mostly African American youths. Asian students said afterward that they were afraid and that their fears weren't taken seriously by school officials.

On March 16, ninth grader Lindi Liu was exiting a bathroom stall when another boy kicked the door inward, bashing him in the head. Liu called his mother, Hui Qin Chen, who said she and her husband hurried to the school, only to be turned away by school police.

School district officials said at the time that they could find no evidence to support Chen's account.

Hackney said the creation of the parent center "wasn't a reaction to that incident."

Instead, he said, he was thinking about how to improve the relationship between parents and the 818-student school. Earlier this year, he posted signs over the front door that say Welcome in six languages, clearly marking the main entrance of a school that draws from a neighborhood of immigrants.

Inside Southern, Room 101 sits at the intersection of two hallways, located between the main entrance and the main office. The room is expected to help shift foot traffic away from the front-door area, which can get congested because of activity at the metal detector, sign-in desk, and nearby auditorium.

Earlier this month, assistant principals Kimlime Chek-Taylor and Cheryl Yancey-Hicks were working to prepare the parent room, tacking a fresh covering over a bulletin board - and getting advice from Hackney.

"Why don't you cut it like - zip!" he suggested.

"Hey," Chek-Taylor shot back, "you're talking to the bulletin-board queen."

Hackney is trying to set a new tone at Southern, and the parent room is part of that. Community organizations will be able to place literature there. A desk will be set aside for the bilingual counselors, whose office is nearby. The room eventually will serve as the office of the parent ombudsman, who acts as a liaison. That position is currently vacant, the subject of a labor-relations dispute.

Meanwhile, in Room 101, the teacher mailboxes have been moved out. And the door window has been hung with curtains.

"We've been trying to create a welcoming environment," Hackney said. "Before, when you entered the building, it was kind of cold."

Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415