A Sheriff's deputy working as a campus school resource officer found Hillside Principal Hans Lassiter in a school hallway, on the floor, with a student's hands around his neck.
"The deputy said his hands were around his neck," Durham County Sheriff's Office Captain Rick Padgett said. "So we can only assume that choking was the object."
Two students were arrested and charged with assault, 16-year-old Nyron Robinson and 17-year-old Savian Turrentine.
The principal was not injured and school officials say he continues to work.
"As the end of the school year gets here, you're going to see a lot of elevation of tempers," Padgett said.
The state's Department of Public Instruction tracks campus crime and violence at every North Carolina school.
Durham's Hillside and Southern high schools rank among the highest in crime incidents.
Last year, both schools recorded about four crime incidents per 100 students.
Most were drug possessions, not violent offenses.
"We've had some drug possessions, some BB guns, knives, brass knuckles," Durham County Chief Deputy Mike Andrews said. "And we do security sweeps which are unannounced when we come."
Each Durham high school staffs two uniformed Sheriff's deputies as school resource officers.
Durham's Sheriff's office pays about 75 percent of the cost. Despite tough budget times, the Sheriff's office plans to continue to pay that portion of school security.
"To be honest with you, the Sheriff and I were out at Southern High School earlier this week and it was very docile," Andrews said.
Both students have bailed out of jail after posting bonds of $1,000 and $3,000.