From an Appreciation by Social Studies chair Wayne Altree published in Denebola:
[He was] a man whose virtues were those worth having and whose faults were venial.
He was the quintessential New Englander – a true-blue Yankee, prideful of his seafaring Cape Cod forebears. He was a great confabulist and his mise-en-scene has to be in the gathering of locals about the proverbial cracker-barrel of a Vermont general store. He was a passionate believer in the American way; and, despite attempts to be broad-minded, he traced its validity to New England roots. Sadly, in his later days, he grew uneasy in a country where Howard Stern, Michael Milkan, and Newt Gingrich waxed large, and Bill Gates became the richest man in history.
Davidson emerged from the usual New England hardscrabble background. At the age of eight he lost his father, and his widowed mother was left to rear, without assistance, four young children in the midst of the Great Depression. Don managed a university education, and in the job-scarce 1930s, took a position as a teacher. Thus began a long professional career as a teacher, coach, counselor, principal and university academic.
Not by temperament an intellectual, Davidson, nonetheless, respected the life of the mind. He read discursively and knew well the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Melville. His hero, of course, was John Dewey, our greatest philosopher. Davidson came to be powerfully affected by Dewey’s vision of the promise of American life and the role of education in its achievement. Davidson’s abiding guiding star was Dewey’s thought.
In Dewey’s model school, the student was not an empty vessel to be filled with inert ideas or received wisdom. Life was change and transformation, and the task of the learner and the teacher, together, was to find experimentally and pragmatically the insight and methods of thought to cope with the exigent future in a modern, democratic society.
No idea, value, principle was sacrosanct, all was open to rigorous, scientific probing. Survival demanded knowing and wrestling with a real world. The operative terms were growth and development. All this was axiomatic to Davidson.
Naturally, neither Dewey nor Davidson did much to change schooling in this country. Education has always been an intractably conservative institution to fortify the status quo. Davidson was saddened by the eclipse of Dewey’s reputation by a new current of “realism” in American thought which questions the possibility of man-made progress. However, he lived long enough to see a revival of interest in Deweyan ideas awakened by Richard Rorty, a Neo-Pragmatist and probably our foremost contemporary philosopher.
Donald Davidson was a rara avis, a remnant of a vanishing species. He was not an amoral hustler, fixer, careerist, elitist, zealot, inside dopester, nor meritocrat, but an honest man, un honnete homme, whose friends, in happy memory, cannot imagine him guilty of a cruel or unworthy act. —Wayne Altree, Chair NSHS Social Studies
“Of the transition from Newton High to Newton South Davidson writes, ‘We made minor mistakes. We tried many new procedures and rejected some, we had to adapt to the buildings, and it took a while for the many teachers and students who had been at Newton High to dispense with old loyalties and to form new ones. Newton [North]…had been, and is, one of the great secondary schools of American and it was not easy to branch off and leave cherished associations behind…However, very soon, we formed our own identity.’
* * *
“a group of students, teachers, and parents [under Davidson’s leadership]…conducted a series of Saturday morning colloquia on various political and cultural problems. Many outstanding authorities were invited over a period and in an informal setting an excellent exchange resulted.”
* * *
“Davidson also enjoyed a strong relationship with the faculty, ‘[They were] outstanding, grand, dedicated people—during a great period in education when we felt that we were moving in directions of national importance and that we were having an impact on bettering the educational process—and that NSHS was a national leader in all of this. It was a period of great enthusiasm.’
It may seem odd that I came to public school Newton South from a private, boarding school experience.
I was raised in NYC, my Father had published Fortune magazine and was part of that early creative group that did Architectural Forum. He had become the vice president of Time, Inc and was also responsible for the influential film, Crusade in Europe.
Attending Harvard, I ended up for family reasons working my way, and becoming very interested in teaching young people but took the path of least resistance and accepted a position in English at the boarding school I had attended, Lawrenceville School, near Princeton.
* * *
Lawrenceville began in 1810. Good as the faculty was in many ways it was not all that aware of the school’s history. Like Princeton, it was more southern than it knew or acknowledged. For example. I discovered disconcerting ties to slavery persisting into the mid-twentieth century.
The Lewisville Road, behind the school was not a county or township road (only paved in the Sixties), it had been a dirt road since the Civil War with ramshackle houses on the edge of the Lawrenceville campus. Like Princeton where the Southern students’ slaves lived, the people who lived in these little shacks, all black were all employees of Lville.
We had a big laundry, black women did the hard work. Their children had no place in the hot summers, so I had the Lawrenceville pool opened for them and taught the kids to swim, despite the usual complaints.
* * *
Why Newton South? Well, I was a maverick from School Year 1– all my life, an odd ball in that sense. I came in the back door to residential education, but my experience there led me to believe with the resources private schools had, with few exceptions, the education they provided was a disgrace.
These institutions were not using their resources properly—in my judgment they were mis-educating youth, providing a very narrow, very uncritical, narcissistic experience. It seemed to me we could learn more if we were helping others.
We set up a Ford Foundation project in nearby Trenton, a summer school taking the worst (black) middle school kids and teachers. We
brought in interesting people, inspired and supported them. The project later expanded to make a larger summer school project supported by Ford, minority kids, mostly black in 1963 and 1964. We got private colleges like Princeton and Yale and Wesleyan to look at kids from inner city schools and poor rural black schools from the South.
It was a spectacular faculty – gave them a marvelous summer, read and wrote, gave them exposure they did not have in their high schools; so those Trenton kids hit that first year in college running, they had a chance.
The Trenton work got me to Newton because, as it happened, Dr. Charles Brown who had been a nationally-recognized superintendent had gone to the Ford Foundation, which had supported those Upward-Bound style programs, and when he heard his old system Newton was looking for leadership at South, Chuck had me for an interview.
How did Newton South High School come into being?
Well, Newton High school, a classical high school that went back into the 19th century and had a national reputation, was getting too big, perhaps 3400 students. So the thinking was to build an even larger, a huge, a massive high school.
But Newton High was really two schools, Newton High and Newton Technical School. (The latter did what’s called VocTech, these days, but the students who attended and were trained were not just from Newton but came from other communities, and had their own, separate building.)
In any event the discussion moved to newer ideas about schools and social relations, the value of closer, more face-to-face contact in the teaching/learning experience.
The argument emerged that one school with perhaps 4500 students would be too big, and there were other pressures for a high school closer to the south side of Newton where the community there had been growing in the post-World War 2 period.
The School Committee decided to make the line Beacon Street, which many over the years thought unwise, reinforcing an artificial North/South mentality.
* * *
Newton High School had for each building—1-2-3—administrators but South gave the system an opportunity to re-think that organizing principle.
Why not combine what had become separate elements of the educational experience? Put together in a single unit academic, administrative and counseling aspects of student and teachers’ days?
If the thinking was vigorous in Newton, the practice had already begun in Evanston, Illinois; those public schools had a “house” system. (There had been smaller scale practice of this concept at Meadowbrook Junior High from the mid-1950s.) Newton educators visited Evanston, and a form was planned and partially implemented in the new South. Harold Howe, who was a legendary figure in American education and part of Newton then thought the houses would be independent and autonomous, each would have a House Master, a little principal, students would take all their classes within a smaller grouping of teachers and teachers and masters would really get to know each student as an individual. Well, Howe left for the Ford Foundation, the ideas had a hard time being put into practice, and many aspects simply couldn’t or didn’t happen.
I grew up in a very good public school system, Shaker Heights, near Cleveland, Ohio. It was a three-year place with 750 kids, about 250 in a class. It was a demanding, academically challenging public school. Just to give you an idea of what its graduates were aiming for, in the mid-1950s, my Senior year, 11 were accepted and 11 went to Amherst College, including myself.
South has at times been referred to as the “Jewish” high school. Was it, or to what extent has it been? In the early days, the Sixties, for some people it was 110% Jewish. The numbers were less but in that first decade the numbers were well over 50 or 60 percent.
It is an important story, part of a much larger and equally important story of American demographics in the 20th century, before and during World War 2. A large group moved out to the south side of Newton from Boston after the war.
That fit the stereotypes, and at times was used in very negative ways. Parents would get me to try to say, well, South is much more academic, if their youngsters went to North they might not get this or that.
I didn’t see it that way, we had two very good high schools to my mind, each with their strengths.
On the other hand, I’m not Jewish but in Shaker Heights, a large Jewish population helped make those schools more positive in many ways. There were two important contributions —first, a culture of learning that began when children were very young, and second and also, a practical awareness of the connection between one’s school and the world, getting on, achievement.
Many of my friends were Jewish, I saw the same thing in Newton I had seen elsewhere, that positive effect of the two.
Also interesting was the way in which separate migrations had different effects, as with other ethnic and racial groups.
You have an older community, now in the north of the city, people whose families had come to America after the failed European revolutions of 1848, people from Germany and Central Europe.
And then a younger community, where my typical student might have grandparents from the 1890s, who had come from Poland, Russia, Galicia areas. They were born or lived in Boston, lived in an apartment in Brookline perhaps, then their parents moved to Newton – moved for the schools of course.
Positive, positive thing. In the classes I taught I would have them write up a short biography of their family, join in a group discussion which was a fine experience. So Newton was not just a “wealthy” suburb.
Is South just an academic powerhouse, do we all put undue pressure on kids? We can discuss it, but the reality is we are living in a competitive society, in a competitive global economy. People must work hard to get by but also to gain some of the experiences they want for themselves and for their children. So there’s good pressure and bad pressure, the one pressing to get important things done; all pressure isn’t bad. If a kid wants to spend time just studying or on something mindless, are those the only choices we can offer?
* * *
There are regional and sectional differences, as anyone will know taking a job in New York City or coming to Boston to study from the Middle West. One of the first things I noticed in Newton in 1958, while with the Harvard-Newton summer school program was at the old Weeks Junior High. The custodians there were always dealing with random forms of vandalism. At Shaker Heights, in the Middle West, if anyone made a mark anywhere, custodians rushed to clean it up. But there wasn’t much, yet I saw a certain kind of casualness in Newton, even in 1961.
We like to think of the school as being a home you would keep up, not as I saw the kids, at Fenway Park or down to see a football game, toss something on the ground, let someone else pick it up. A different mindset, if you will.]]>
‘If you had told me I was going to be a high school principal some day, I would have said you’ve got to be crazy,’ [Mike Welch said].
He could not deny, however, his interest in assisting youth. ‘I love working with kids,’ he stated simply with a broad smile.
Welch was a teacher long before he came to Newton South, and it is a part of his past that he feels is easy for many people in the Newton community to forget. As a physics teacher at Belmont High School, Welch was voted best teacher by the students and in 1998 was a semi-finalist for Teacher of the Year in Massachusetts.
‘I’m more proud of that than a lot of other things I’ve done,’ he said.
In the spring of 2000, after being a housemaster at Newton North for about two and a half years, Welch received a very unexpected call. It was Superintendent Jeffrey Young on the phone with a proposition. ‘He called and said, “How would you like to be principal at Newton South?” ‘And I thought, What is wrong with you? Why are you calling me?’ Welch laughed at his initially dubious response.
* * *
‘I don’t want to say that things were broken when I got here because they weren’t. I think the school, and I still think the school, doesn’t do as well as I’d like in terms of serving all kids well,’ Welch said of a challenge he has faced throughout his time here. He found himself wanting to change the very culture of the school entirely.
He was against the attitude that distanced school administrators from students: ‘I want people out in the hallways, and I want people interacting with kids. But that isn’t the way this place operates. It operates like a little college.’
In the first months and years of his principalship, Welch also dealt with a bomb scare, a senior class tradition that got out of hand, and issues around parking. ‘I still have the rocks [seniors] threw through my windows…’
He holds up a Ziplock bag with several large rocks inside and says they pelted his old office for his first three years at South. ‘In a way, it’s a kind of badge of honor,’ Welch says, smiling.
More importantly, he had to try to close the gap between adults and students. ‘I felt that kids were disconnected from school,’ he admitted, thinking of the progress South has made in that respect.
* * *
…while he may be more strict than many in the South community perceive, he is also better able to let loose when away from work. ‘I’m a lot more fun than I can show. Being a principal means you can’t always be exactly who you are. You have to have some level of moral authority and presence,’ Welch said.
He expressed how uncomfortable it sometimes is for him to know that he must carry himself as a dignitary much of the time. Welch, with his healthy sense of humor, downplays the presumed superiority of a principal: ‘Who am I? I’m just a guy who was a teacher who now suddenly is calling the shots here. I’m no better than any teacher in this building…’
‘This principal job was a lot harder than [the military pattern of decision-making].’
The community itself proved to be one in Welch had to compromise his favored style of taking quick action and making bold decisions. ‘In Newton, it’s a lot of lobbying and arguing your point, trying to change decisions that have been made. I realized you had to go around and around, and talk and talk and talk, to make sure everybody is aware of what you’re thinking. And I found that frustrating, but that’s just the way it is.’]]>
I believe that South is a wonderful school. I also believe that we have some important work to do before our students will proudly proclaim “My school loves me!”
During my first year as Principal at South, I did a lot of listening to you – students, faculty, and parents – as you talked about South. I learned that you love many, many things about South: you love the incredible people here; you love the amazing opportunities; you love the excellent programs – from athletics to academics to music to art to theater to clubs to newspapers to traveling abroad; and, you love the respect for differences that we passionately maintain within our school.
Make no mistake, this is a wonderful school. No other school that I know supports a Sophomore Speech competition in which every student competes, the Spelling Bee where participants are loudly supported, “Passin’ Time” where the entire school strolls through the halls during a long advisory, Tertulia where students and teachers co-create an all-day talent show, – and today’s all-school event.
But, as I listened to you last year, I did not hear many of you say “I love South.” Although you seem proud to be students here, most of you describe South as full of stress that must be endured in order to get into a good college. And when I push you to explain, you say you don’t want South to lower its standards. You don’t want us to offer you a copper education and pretend that it’s gold.
Rather, the main issue seems to be how it feels to be a student at South. You want a South that understands the challenges you face as a student, and a South that actively supports you as you meet those challenges.
Well, the truth is that South is us! We create it anew each year. In too many of my conversations with you, South is described as an inanimate object – a thing that merely is. To be clear: the walls, halls, and classrooms do not give South its character. We the people make South what it is – and can be. We create – and can recreate – Newton South.
What an institution has been in the past, while informative, does not dictate what it will be in the future. Moreover, a group of people who are focused on a common goal can make a great difference. I’ve seen this happen with teams, theater productions, classes, and clubs.
South is a very good high school, but it can be better. I believe that if we, together, choose to act in a way that embodies the South that we want, we can transform our school. I have a couple of suggestions for each of you: students – first, go to a game, play, or concert and cheer for each other; second, say “thank you” to an adult; teachers – first, make it clear each day how your goal is to do all that you can to help your students succeed; second, maybe allow for an extension when a student comes to you with a difficult week; parents – first, give the wonderful adults working here the benefit of the doubt, and second, assume that we care deeply about your children; For me: first, I will get into halls and classrooms more, and second, I will continue to listen. If every person here commits to acting in one of these ways three times each day (that’s 6,000 individual acts each day; 1,080,000 acts for the year), we could powerfully transform South into a school that we could confidently say — we love.
So…THIS I BELIEVE: It is our responsibility – yours and mine and no one else’s – to transform South into a school where we can honestly proclaim… WE LOVE OUR SCHOOL. Thank you, Newton South, for the privilege of being your principal.]]>
For thirty-nine years The Newtonite has more than adequately fulfilled the purpose of a school newspaper – to inform the student body and to serve as a clearing house for ideas and opinions. Now we have two high schools on opposite sides of the city. The Newtonite can no longer serve both schools and, at the same time, fulfill its purpose.
During the past year The Newtonite has been the liaison between Newton High and Newton South. But the high schools each have separate administrations, extra-curricular activities, atheletic teams, student government, and yearbooks, so separate newspapers logically follow. In September Newton South will have its own newspaper.
The establishment of a newspaper at Newton South is not dividing the high schools for they are two independent schools now. As when a cell is halved by mitosis, each newly formed cell is independent; when the student body of Newton High was divided to form Newton South, Newton South became an independent school.
Pertinent, timely news for Newton South students is important. By the establishment of a newspaper, this need can be more effectively accomplished. It also provides would-be journalists with a chance to develop their talents. Presently only 35 students are able to serve on The Newtonite staff. Two newspapers will provide twice as many positions for interested students.
In choosing a name for the new paper, it seems only fitting that the name pertain to the lion, the school mascot. The name of the paper comes from the start which forms the lion’s tail in the constellation, Leo. From this forward, the Newton South High paper will be known as:
The Lion’s Tale
May Denebola, like the star whose name it bears, shine brightly in the years to come.
How can we keep Newton united while we divide the high school? Now is the time to act! Parents, teachers, students, and all our citizens are faced with the challenge to work together to keep Newton High School one in spirit.
June 1960 is he last time that the students from the entire city will graduate as one class. A great deal of thought, planning, and money has gone into the establishment of Newton South High School to make it an effective place to study and learn.
Hopefully, with two smaller schools the ratio of students to teachers will be reduced and the pupils will profit from closer relationships than are now possible. Also, twice as many students will get a chance to hold influential positions in the schools.
On the other side of the coin, however, is the old saying “united we stand, divided we fall.” A complete split in the schools may tend to give the students alliances to a section rather than a city.
The question remains how to avoid the potential problems resulting from division of the high school. Two suggestions occur to me.
First, the division should be gradual. There should be only one yearbook, only one graduation; there should be combined extra-curricular activities for at least the nex two years. This would give students who thus far have had a united class a chance to maintain contacts with friends regardless of where they live.
One yearbook is important as a record of our common interests.
One graduation is important as a symbol of our common achievements. These are class functions which should be maintained.
On the other hand, a newspaper is an activity which reflects the individuality of the school. Therefore, separate newspapers should be established immediately.
Exchange columns can be used to bind the two schools together, but the news features should be those stories of concern to the particular school.
By accentuating common class loyalties and at the same time encouraging individual school support, Newton can enjoy the advantages of two smaller high schools with a common spirit.
Second, in the near future, an all-Newton community centre should be built where students from the whole city can gather to share common activities. This the original end in view when Tigerama was inaugurated.
Common class functions and a community center can help to keep Newton united. The challenged lies here!
The bomber screams cutting close to the village.The pilot goes
down low and the Earth is a mud puddle but children aren’t
making mud pies and pretending that dirt and water really
So he drops his package up high where he can’t see who must
pay for delivery and doesn’t have to think about it.
The warm other must.
For as the sirens wail she scurries to get her children in fox
But what will happen on the day when one is missing and she
frantically searches the now empty childless street, saying
“no!” to the tears and to the panic and to reality.
The one missing is three and has wandered off to be a three
year old and is outside the village near the bridge where at
night he hears trucks pass.
And he looks above the trees bordering the patties and sees the
And he doesn’t know.
He smiles and giggles, waving a light brown pudgy hand at the
The toy drops a package and the child laughs.
But even at three the reality of toys not being toys is