Some teachers at Barratt Middle School said that it's unfair to describe it as "full of bullies."
They don't understand why parents from the G.W. Childs School don't want their children sharing the building with Barratt eighth-graders next fall, noting that, for years, Childs was a "feeder" school to Barratt.
But even Barratt defenders concede that the school has long suffered from a bad reputation.
"Twelve years ago, it was a scary school," said a teacher who didn't want her name used. "There were Philadelphia police at every exit. When I told my family I took the job here, they told me I was crazy.
"In June, I had the option to leave, but teachers who had been here 20 years, or 15 years, came to me and said, 'We have a nice staff.' " She stayed.
The teacher said that Barratt principal Roy McKinney had been vice principal before taking the top job in about 2001. "Ever since then, he's turned the school around," she said. "He's built ties to the community."
Margaret Haynes, an aunt of several Barratt students, said that she saw McKinney painting the school one day, along with his students, and he urged her to pick up a brush, too.
Barratt also has a number of good students accepted into special-admission schools, such as the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and the Academy at Palumbo, staffers said.
At the same time, they said, the school is forced to take children with emotional or legal problems that charter schools "don't have to take."
When the school tries to get help for children, sometimes parents and grandparents "can't find a ride" to get drug counseling or can't take off from work, a staffer said.
"We have a 13-year-old boy here who has been arrested three times this year," said a staffer. "He has a drug problem.
"The last time he was arrested, it was for attacking a 25-year-old man on the sidewalk. He tried to take his iPod. But every time he's arrested, he's right back in here the next day."
On the whole, staffers said, the kids are improving and spend more time in class, while the honor roll is expanding.