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South turns 50 – Principals lead the way

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
Davidson 1960-1965 From an Appreciation by Social Studies chair Wayne Altree published in Denebola:

Geer (1965-1973)

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
From a January 2011 interview: 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 ...

Seasholes (1973-1997)

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
From a January 2011 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.

Welch (2000-2005)

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
From the June 2005 issue of Denebola: ‘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,’ . 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 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 .’

Stembridge (2009-Present)

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
From Stembridge’s “This I Believe” essay presented on September 24, 2010: 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.

50th Anniversary Edition – Why and How

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
Fiftieth Anniversaries only come once. That’s why Denebola could not – and would not – miss the opportunity to celebrate Newton South’s, as well as its own. This paper – the 50th Anniversary Edition of Denebola – exemplifies the range of accomplishments that South is known for. The 50th Edition surveys the five decades of our school’s existence; it identifies the trends, commonalities, and evolution of South as both an academic institution and ...

18 months of labor pay off: Newton South born

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
The Newtonite, Sept. 1960 The administration and the faculty of Newton South High School took a deep breath and opened the doors of a barely finished school on September 13. “If this teacher puts us in alphabetical order, I’ll die,” commented one of the sophomores, first entrants into the new school. These new high schoolers were more concerned with the size and complexities of high school than they were with the newness ...

Denebola is born

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
By Jane Hogan The Newtonite, 1960 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 ...

Newton divided; students split

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
By Carol Levi The Newtonite, May 1960 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 ...

Just war polemics

By Denebola | Published: February 2011
By Marvin Swartz, Volume 7 April 3, 1968 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 make pies. 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 ...

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