Sunday, October 11, 2009

High School Reunion II: What a difference will makes

In High School Reunion I, your reporter wrote the following:

The High School itself, Weehawken High School, is located about two blocks from the Hudson River, on the bluffs of Weehawken where the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton took place. From that lovely spot all of the Manhattan skyline and more unfolds before your eyes with the same awesome scale as a visit to the Grand Canyon.

The opening highlight of the reunion weekend was a tour of the school guided by the principal of the last 30 years. It was a wonder to behold. When I attended the school, it had grades 10-12, with about 700 students. Now it has about half that many, with grades 7-12. The school is in spectacular condition, and is run as if it were a private school; no social promotions, no drug issues, and so much more.

What makes this all the more startling is that the school was built as a WPA project about the same time the "Old Brunswick High School," now returned to dust, was built. The sense of loss and disbelief that descended upon us over the latter as we toured was profound, and truth be told, maddening.

As it turns out, the school was built in 1940, 3 years after the original Brunswick building. The school web site has a nice picture of the school along with a variety of very interesting information.

Here's a few pictures I took the day of the tour:

For sake of contrast, here's two shots of Brunswick's High School built in 1937:

What a difference 3 years and the will of local citizens can make. To repeat, the contrast was startling and gut-wrenching, on two accounts. The first, the physical structure and how it has been lovingly maintained and operated. The second, the education operations of the school, which are nothing short of amazing....the stuff of which movies are made.

On the first account, it is clear that Weehawken has maintained the school in pristine condition. Windows have been replaced, bathrooms, locker rooms, and cooking areas refurbed, and an elevator added. But the physical arrangement of the school has not been changed one bit, and the emphasis has been on preservation of historic touches, including the original lettering on the classroom doors. It is evident throughout that the student body respects the school immensely; nowhere did we see signs of decay, graffiti, or other disrespect for the place.

Take a look at the auditorium:

Or a hallway:

Or a classroom:

It's amazing how you can honor and preserve something if you have the will. As we toured the school, sadness and anger came over me as I recalled the exact opposite in Brunswick.

Then there's the subject of how the school is run. Once again, I refer you to the school web site, where you will find that grades 9-12 are operated as three collocated Academies: Masters Academy, Collegiate Academy, and Career Academy.

The Principal, who has been in place for 30 years, is right out of a movie like "Stand and Deliver." Listening to him was an epiphany, and all we could think is that the man needs to be "bottled" for distribution everywhere. The school's success rates are astounding, their discipline problems virtually non-existent, and there is no coddling of any sort. There are no social promotions. It is run, in effect, as a private school.

Here's a very telling example of the culture and atmosphere in the school. A poster with the following words was seen all around the school:

Cell phones, I-Pods, and other electronic devices are not to be seen or used in any classroom, hallway, or other part of the building at any time. This includes waiting in the hall for first period to begin and during lunch. They also must not be visible. If a student is seen wearing an electronic device, it will be confiscated.

First Offense: A parent must come to the school to retrieve it after 3 school days.

Second Offense: The device will be returned at the end of the current school year.

Third Offense: The device will be returned after the student has graduated.

Cell phones must be kept in your locker and I-Pods must not be brought to school.

I don't have kids in the Brunswick School System, but I would be shocked if the rules were anywhere close to this rigid and clear-cut. And we know Brunswick makes "seat-time" or social promotions.

This principal has received donations for the school in wills and from other sources, and has had up to $2 million at his discretion to award to needy students or to give them awards for furthering their education.

If a student is suspected of being under the influence of any substance, the parent is called and given an option: either the school will test the child immediately, or the student will be sent home, the parent must have the child tested, and the student is not readmitted to test results are provided to the school.

Most of the students go on to a four year college. For those who graduate from an Ivy League School, the principal attends their graduation. How's that for follow-up?

This was a remarkable tour of a remarkable place by a remarkable man. I and other alumni will be working in follow up to somehow gain wider benefit of the advances made at this school, and the success it breeds.

It all boils down to determination and commitment, not a bunch of gobbledy-gook from the Ivory Tower institutions or the elite education engineers. It's just basic common sense and its no nonsense application.

What a wonder. Words fail me at this point; I fell a warm sentimentality mixed with total disgust that we have all the wrong influences get in the way of the simple pursuit of excellence and character building. And I am powerless to articulate these thoughts; hell, I'm just an engineer.

So thank you, Dr. Olivieri for all you do, for making these alumni so proud of our High School alma mater, and for renewing so many fond memories for those of us who took the tour. It truly was a heartwarming experience.

Go Weehawken! Go Indians!


  1. Mr. Poppycock; I would be interested if you questioned the principle with regard to the compensation paid to teachers at the school and what form , if any, they have to evaluate them?

    It is encouraging to read that there are still islands of sanity in this world, particularly in New Jersey where the state is going into the tank in many other areas. Their survival is indeed a miracle.

  2. pmconusa:

    The nature of the tour did not allow for lengthy one-on-one discussion of such matters. You have my promise, however, to follow up on such matters, and report on any details that are unearthed.