Category Archives: Schools


You’re Not Special

To me, high school commencement addresses are like rolls with dinner.  They help to fill up space but really aren't all that tasty or memorable.  One rarely says, that dinner was pretty good, but those rolls! Man, were they the best!  In fact most of us probably don't remember the name of the speaker, let alone a word the speaker says, other than, like we know a roll has flour and yeast, the speech said things like "strive to be the best" and "work hard" or idioms such as that.

Every once in a while a commencement address comes along that grabs some attention, if only because of it's eccentricity as stacked against every other commencement address we've ever witnessed.

Here is one such address.  Really, it is only worthwhile for the first few paragraphs.  After which, it, like all other addresses before it, falls into the same set of encouraging advice.  Here's what I find refreshing in this address.

No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid cliche's like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume... shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma... but for your name, exactly the same. All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special. You are not special. You are not exceptional. Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you... you’re nothing special. Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.




Lighten Up, Francis.

We are near the end of graduation season and so a fitting time for me to vent on another thing that bothers only me: excessive celebration at the ceremony.

I am sure you know what I mean.  The MC says, "Please hold your applause until all the graduates have been called."  Then one family decides to shout a little, "Woot!" for their son.  Then the next adds a whistle and a "Way to go, Latandra!"  Before you know it the whole family is up and whistling and dancing.

The effect of all the hootin' and hollarin' is that the next name or two gets completely drowned out, overshadowed by some moron's family who had a few to many PBRs before heading out.  It is those subsequent kids, who have worked and is just as deserving as the previous kid of being honored at the ceremony, that I think justice needs to be done.

Well, Mt Healthy High School near Cincinnati is doing something about it.  As part of the license to attend, all people with tickets agree to abide by the school's policy  prohibiting disruptive behavior at the ceremony.  Violations thereof will result in a lien on the diploma until the graduate completes 20 hours of community service.  While graduates are indeed graduates and have all the rights vested therein, they will not have a diploma unless they complete the service.

Of course, there is a potential enforcement issue as in what constitutes  "disruptive behavior."  I think disruptive behavior is very difficult to define, but we all know it when we see it.

I think this policy is brilliant.  I hope it catches on.


Problematic Drug Policy.

I ripped on Cleveland this week and have been taken to task that my opinions of Cleveland have tarnished my points of view.  That may be so, I am not going to argue.  The same can be said for what lies beneath, although I believe I am approaching this from the perspective of a parent of children in high school rather than an alumnus of St Francis de Sales High School, an all-male Catholic school in Toledo.

St John Jesuit School, an all-male, grade 6 -12 school  in Toledo, has recently announced plans to begin testing faculty and staff for drugs.

All students and staff members could be asked to provide a hair sample for testing, and submission to the tests will be a condition of enrollment, the Rev. Joaquin Martinez, school president, said Thursday. School administrators have discussed a possible drug testing policy for about two years. It does not include testing for alcohol.

Fr. Martinez continues,

When you are talking about some of these privacy issues, I think the safety issues and the making-good-choices issues are more important.

Way, way more kids illegally use alcohol than illicit drugs.  Way, way more adults develop alcohol-related problems than illicit-drug-related problems.  Failing to test for alcohol will only drive at-risk students toward it, not away from it.  Frankly, this sort of testing policy doesn't make the school or the kids all that much safer.

Beyond that,  failing to report drug use may create some interesting legal issues, esepcially in light of this statement from school spokesperson Zach Silka,

These are sensitive issues, so we are handling it [positive test results] on a case-by-case basis, but there would be some sort of punishment. The policy is not to punish the kids or ruin their lives; it's to get them help.

Case-by-case analysis and subsequent levying of punishment means potential inconsistent application of justice.  Certainly a consistent policy is required for procedures when positive tests are reported.  Seems to me that this policy is not well conceived and a risky endeavor with minimal upside.  That is unless SJJ has an obvious problem of which the public is unaware.

Kahn Academy: More Like Con Academy.

CBS's 60 Minutes ran a segment last night on the Khan Academy, which is essentially a series of online instructional videos for elementary school math.  The guy was doing them on his own until Bill Gates got involved and threw a bunch of cash at him in order to make the video anthologies more user friendly, as in school setting friendly.  What has developed is a program that allows participating classrooms to set the students free to tackle each concept at the student's own pace all the while monitored by a teacher.

The segment can be viewed here.

In my estimation there is no field of our society that is more prone to following trends than education.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, in the sense that our motives are in the right place.  We want to get people as smart as we can get them for as little money as possible.  So whenever someone says, "I have an idea."  Someone in the education field will undoubtedly say, "OK, I'll listen."

I don't have a lot to say about Khan Academy other than it is just one more of a long line of outcome-based models that have been tried, and many have failed.  Not really failed as much as not really succeeded.  Under this process, a student moves from one concept to another, being taught through this online video stream.  The teacher is there to monitor each student's progress.   Schools keep computer labs open until 10 PM for students without internet access at home.

If this scheme works at all, it works in wealthy suburban districts where students have either access at home or a parent willing to take them to school in the evening and pick them up later.  In other words, it isn't going to reform education as we know it.

I'd be interested to read your thoughts after you view the video.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Why Cooperate When They Can Compete?

There is currently a war going on in our fair city in the most unlikeliest of places.  You see metro Toledo currently has an amazing six Catholic high schools in the midst of rapidly increasing education costs and a rapidly declining school-age population.   Four of the schools are devoted to a single sex environment, two are currently co-educational.  At some point, there has to be some attrition, one would think.

One of the co-ed schools, Cardinal Stritch, opened an affiliated pre-K - 8th grade program a few years ago.  This keeps a stream, however small it may be, in their school.  The high school does try to attract students leaving elementary, and I believe they are somewhat successful in that mission, but it was obviously not enough to keep them afloat.  I believe that this system, called Kateri Catholic Schools, is operated by the Diocese of Toledo.

St John Jesuit (boys), Notre Dame Academy and St Ursula Academy (both girls) opened middle schools over the course of the last couple of years.  The Diocese placed some large restrictions on each.  They were restricted in the numbers of students they could enroll from any particular Catholic elementary school, they are required to provide wholly separate facilities for the middle school and they are required to charge tuition equal to that charged to students of the high school.  Whatever reasons each of these schools cites for opening these middle schools, the plain reason is to bolster enrollment across the board.

Central Catholic High School is operated,  like Kateri, by the Diocese of Toledo as is each of the elementary schools run by parishes throughout the Diocese.  While the Diocese has held meetings, both public and private, regarding consolidating the various parish middle schools into one or more Diocesan middle school, it hasn't really done anything concrete as of yet.   St Francis de Sales High School is run by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.  The oblates started a non-religious charter middle school several years ago.  This school is run with a completely secular curriculum and caters toward students who need enrichment.  Many continue on to the high school, but the word in the community is that many ultimately can't cut the rigors of the program.  By way of comaprison with the other single sex schools, the charter school is not the enrollment enhancer that the other middle schools are.

As it is today, each of the six schools fight like hell over every single 8th grader.  Each school has its own methods, several are now using free or reduced iPads, MacBooks and the like to entice students.  It really has gotten cut throat.  Each school claims that it's not going anywhere and is in it for the long haul.

So now we turn to parish schools.  As long as the rolls of the Catholic Church continues to fall and the population of school-age kids decreases, the parish schools are fighting to stay alive as well.  Any move by the Diocese to remove the middle school from each strikes a potential death.   It would seem that the Diocese would be better served to leave some of the larger parishes alone or let them work out a consolidation on their own terms.  That may ultimately happen, because as I've stated previously, the Diocese has yet to strike the blow.

One school isn't waiting.

St Joseph's School in Maumee, already rumored to have cut ties to the other Catholic High Schools, has gotten into bed with Central Catholic.  I know, lousy metaphor, right?

St Joe's is going to operate a middle school at its parish campus, but the school is going to be affiliated with Central Catholic.  Students will receive iPads.  A computer lab will be stocked with MacBooks.  For this the students will be surcharged a bit on the tuition front to the tune of several hundred dollars.  But a far cry from the $10,000 charged to the middle school students at the academies.

Let's dissect this deal for a second.  According to a teacher at the school, St Joe's this year currently has 21 8th graders.  The plan for this "new" middle school is 25 in each of the three middle school grades.  Beside the technology, Central's contribution is going to largely be curriculum based.  Interestingly enough, the Diocese has a curriculum for its parish schools that each is mandated to follow.  I don't know for sure, but I would guess that the "new" curriculum cannot be all that different from what's there now.  No. No. The naked motivation of this whole deal is steer kids to Cherry Street for high school while keeping St Joe's afloat.

There are two or three larger and probably more effective parish schools within a short distance of St Joseph.  If the middle school is flailing along, why not affiliate with one of these other schools?

I'll tell you why not.  Because they are in competition with them.  I know.  It boggles the mind.

And what about Central Catholic and its wolf-in-sheep's clothing approach?  The school has rich alumni willing to donate millions.  Together with St Vincent Mercy Hospital, they've really fixed up the neighborhood on Cherry Street by bulldozing most of the neighborhood.  The result of this effort has been to essentially anchor the school to the inner city.  They've spent too much to move.  So the school now has to come up with the illusion that they aren't an inner city school.

The school is currently constructing a baseball stadium in southwest Toledo, miles away from the inner city.  With this new affiliation in Maumee, the school has spread its presence into the suburbs.  So the result is that school can maintain its location while at the same time appearing as if it's located in suburbia.

An interesting side note is that St Francis de Sales held its annual fundraising carnival this past weekend and distributed fliers for inclusion in each elementary school's correspondence system.  Rumor is that all schools complied with the request to which only St Joseph's refused.

Why cooperate?






Enhanced by Zemanta

It’s Not Exactly ESPN On Ohio State, If You Get My Drift.

Jesuite missionary, painting from 1779.
Image via Wikipedia

From the Toledo Blade:

The Ohio High School Athletic Association has imposed sanctions against St. John's Jesuit and Central Catholic high schools for bylaw violations. This season the St. John's soccer team had a athlete violate OHSAA bylaw 4-6-3, which deals with students whose parents reside outside of Ohio. In accordance with bylaw 10-2-1 (forfeitures), the Titans must forfeit victories in eight varsity games and six freshmen games in which the ineligible freshman participated.

One has to wonder what the Blade report would look like if this was Whitmer and not The Blade's beloved St John Jesuit.  My guess is not like this.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Schools Gone Wild

It has been a long time since I have posted under this topic.  I don't know if it is because I haven't been paying attention or because the schools have been relatively sane lately, but this one is pretty bizarre, really.

Officials at a North Carolina Elementary School suspended a fourth grader after he called his teacher "cute." "I was talking to my friend and I said "Ms. Terry was cute"... and that's it. that's all i said. The nine-year-old, Emanyea was sent home from his school last week, for two days because school district officials say his comment was inappropriate. A substitute teacher overheard the young boy talking to his friend and reported it. Emanyea's mother, Chiquita Lockett, said the punishment does not fit the crime. "It's not like he went up to the woman and tried to grab her or touch her in a sexual way. so why would he be suspended for two days?"

I guess this is out of the question.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Nitpicking High School Visitations

Grilled hot dogs
Image via Wikipedia

I read the story in today's Toledo Blade regarding the visitations by 8th graders this week of all six Catholic high schools in metro Toledo.  My daughter is in 8th grade, and so I have a vested interest in the story.  Those of you who know this space certainly know where my allegiances lie and where they don't.  I guess it's the paranoia in me, but whenever I read these stories, I look for bias in the Blade reporting.  I think I found some, but I can't be sure because my paranoia always seems to cloud my vision.  You be the judge.

It can also very well be that some schools treat this event a bit differently than others.  Some schools may try to sugar coat the high school experience, while others may be a little straighter in their approach.

First the Catholic school that calls itself "The One."

Central Catholic is the largest of the six high schools with 1,008 students this year.

While we all know the reason for that, the Blade seems incapable of reporting it.

Next on to Airport.

At St. John's Jesuit High School, the eighth-grade boys tour the 56-acre campus in golf carts driven by teachers or coaches.  And while most of the schools offer cookies or light refreshments, St. John's starts with cookies, moves into hotdogs on the senior patio, and ends the session with french fries and soda pop for good measure. St. John's, which began distributing iPads to all students this year, introduced that technology to eighth graders and showed off its new turf football field and athletic complex.

Gee, that sounds a lot like a sales pitch.  How about that sales pitch from Bancroft?

"We don't dumb it down like some schools," [Director of Admissions Rick Michalak] said. "We still have a [pep] rally, but the kids are going into our chapel to hear about service and our campus ministry. They're going down to the science wing and talking to the physics, biology, and chemistry teachers."

Wow, that sounds like fun, but where's my iPad2 the new turf football field, athletic complex or hotdogs on the senior patio?

Oh wait, I forgot.  The iPad2 is soon to be obsolete, I play football or soccer or lacrosse or whatever else is going to be played on that field but I don't get any real playing time because, well, you know, and I won't actually be a senior for four more years so for 75% of my high school life I can never step on this patio again (and eat delicious hot dogs).  But I will get to see a few pep rallies, go to the chapel frequently and take a science class every year.

Yea.  I know.  I'm sick.

But how might you wrap a story like this if you are the Toledo Blade?  Like this?

Fresh from helping out with a science lab experiment with dry ice at Central Catholic yesterday, St. Joan of Arc eighth-grader Mario Markho said he was leaning toward St. John's. "I found it more appealing to me," he said.

Of course you would.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Blade’s Vision Is Less Than 20/20

As a follower of our local high school athletic scene, I read with great interest today's editorial from the Toledo Blade chastising Whitmer High School administration for academic performance that the Blade calls merely average while at the same time ruthlessly pursuing star athletes from other school districts.  The words "ruthlessly pursuing" do not appear in the editorial however that notion is implied.

Whitmer High School's run at a state football championship this season will be meaningless unless Washington Local school administrators also develop a game plan to make the school an academic powerhouse, and prove to state officials that they did not improperly recruit athletes. The Ohio High School Athletic Association is investigating a number of transfers to Whitmer's football program. If star athlete LeRoy Alexander and others were wrongly recruited by Whitmer, the association must make the point that education is more important to developing youths than wins and losses on the field.

I have no idea whether Whitmer officials did anything improper when it comes to the transfers of late.  I suspect they may have shaved some corners, but that is not the reason why this editorial caught my eye and prompted this post.

Public schools in urban settings are at a distinct disadvantage over their private counterparts when it comes to athletics.  Whitmer has boundaries.  St. Francis de Sales High School has no such boundaries.  In fact St. Francis can reach as far as one is willing to drive, including into other states under certain circumstances.  It is inherently unfair.  It has become such that local school districts have to bust their butts just to get their own students to stay and not go to one of the privates.

St John Jesuit High School had (and may still) a program called the 20/20 program.  I don't know all the details but from very reliable sources I can relate that this was a "scholarship" program meant to reach out to inner city kids who ordinarily would not be able to afford a St John Jesuit education.  It turns out, that while undoubtedly some of the scholarships were given to some very intelligent, non-athletic types, some of the scholarships were given to star basketball players initially and later star athletes in other sports.  Word on the street was that the program was initially overseen by the head basketball coach and then later by the head football coach which instantly ought to send up some red flags.  Whether that is true or not, I cannot say.  To the best of my knowledge, the Blade has never approached the subject.

There may be other shenanigans occurring at Central Catholic and St Francis de Sales.  Perhaps the Blade, rather than chastising,  should focus more on why Whitmer may feel the need to shave corners in the first place.






Enhanced by Zemanta