According to Amber Williams, who submitted this writing by Tony, he wrote this about it:
I wrote that at the end of my teaching career – got inspired that summer – wish I had finished.Tony Yount
In August of 1968, when I arrived as a Carolina freshman, Chapel Hill was in the middle of a building boom. The baby boom kids had come to college and the town couldn’t seem to hold everyone who wanted to be here. Chapel Hill made Civil Rights history by electing Howard Lee as its mayor. After a tough freshman year, I fell in love with this place, celebrated basketball triumphs, protested the war in Vietnam, learned the intricacies of the draft, adopted a set of political values that are with me still. My summers were spent in the North Carolina mountains at a church camp, where I made the decision to major in education and spend my life working with kids. Junior year brought tutoring assignments in the Northside neighborhood. Senior year took me to Raleigh to student teach.
In August of 1972, Phillips Principal Herb Allred made me a desperation hire two days before the beginning of school. I interviewed for a teaching job at Phillips Junior High without ever having filled out an application. And I had to answer Herb’s standard first question, “Can you play volleyball with one hand?” I said yes, and after he told me that I had the job, I went to Lincoln Center and completed the appropriate forms. He needed to replace a Civics teacher who had just taken another job, and I got lucky. I had a friend on his staff at Phillips, the mother of one of the youth group kids at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Right place, right time, right people.
Herb was, simply put, the best educator I’ve ever known. He understood what so many other administrators fail to understand – that the principal’s purpose was to enable teachers to do their jobs. If his teachers could get through an entire school day completely focused on their students, lessons and classrooms, without any outside interference from Raleigh, or Lincoln Center, or any other disruptions to the educational process, then Herb had done his job. President Bush emphasizes local control of the educational process. We actuallly had local control then. Phillips and Culbreth, the only two junior highs, had different schedules, different course offerings, different approaches to similar problems; and Lincoln Center and the community were comfortable with that. Chapel Hill High was its own kingdom, far removed from the rest of the educational system of the town in many ways, and a better educational institution for it.
The High School had just begun to earn its reputation as the state’s flagship secondary school. People still mentioned Broughton, Myers Park, Reynolds, Grimsley, Durham and Asheville as the state’s elite institutions. Chapel Hill’s early, and comparatively smooth integration helped establish that reputation. The university certainly helped the schools by setting an example. Mayor Lee had help from the students and the university community in his election campaign. Coach Smith brought Charlie Scott to town, a marvelous role model for the junior high kids I was about to teach and coach. At Phillips Junior High, race relations seemed remarkably good to a twenty-two year old who had been raised in the western part of North Carolina, and who had attended segregated schools until the tenth grade. Yet, though we tried, the faculty at Phillips could not get the students to integrate the lunch lines. The Phillips cafeteria had two serving areas, and the students themselves chose to keep them separate. The seating area was shared, but students rarely sat at tables of mixed races. But the students seemed comfortable with that, and classes were integrated. With few electives to choose from, classes were likely to contain a true mix of all the kids the community had to offer. There were no honors courses, or tracking levels in junior high in the 70s and the faculty at Phillips, led by Herb, was committed to keeping it that way. The same, stubborn achievement gaps that persist today were present then. The reason for the disparity in achievement was the same then as it is now: students from homes with parents who had more money and more education performed better than students from homes whose parents had less money and less education. Integration had just occurred and the students we were teaching in the 70s were born into a segregated society that intentionally created a second-class education for the parents of the black students at Phillips.
Rookie teachers get saddled with extras no one else wants. I was chosen to advise the school’s yearbook staff. It was really a club, meeting after school. We put together a great group of kids. I had some inkling, from my work with the youth group at Holy Trinity Lutheran that Chapel Hill had more than its share of talented, ambitious, aggressive, energetic kids. My first year at Phillips cemented that impression in my mind. As a summer camp counselor working with kids from all over the Southeast, I was no stranger to great kids, and I knew that they existed everywhere. What makes Chapel Hill such a unique place to teach is that it has much more than its fair share of outstanding young people. I think part of the explanation is that this is an academic community with parents who are talented, ambitious, aggressive, energetic. Part of it is that the kids educate and challenge and push each other. Part of it was that in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, the school system let teachers and students direct their own learning. Creativity was emphasized in the classroom. Test scores were not. Education was superior then.
Our first yearbook was a success mainly because we had so much fun making it. I know that I wasn’t a very good teacher that year. (I caught a tremendous break with the televised Watergate hearings. North Carolina’s Senator Sam Ervin led the Senate investigations into Richard Nixon’s scandal. My lesson plans for the last month of school were to watch history being made.) I had too much to learn. But I did have energy and time to give. Knowing few people in town, I went to every event the school sponsored, and that scored points with the students. I had trouble controlling classes, sometimes they controlled me. But by the end of the second year, I was beginning to become a teacher. I taught ninth graders. Middle school was, fortunately, not to be inflicted upon Chapel Hill until the end of the 80s. I remember at the end of my second year, my fourth period class held hands on the last day of school and cried. They didn’t want ninth grade to end. They were happy, they felt safe and secure. Its a great feeling for a teacher when students don’t want to leave your classroom.
The second year also made me a basketball coach. Coach Sam Vaughn, the incumbent PE teacher and coach, took a job with NC Central, leaving the basketball position open. Junior High basketball coaches were paid the exhorbitant sum of $300.00 for the season in 1973 – three hours every afternoon after school for 4 months, easily less than a dollar an hour. But, to this day, the most rewarding teaching activity I’ve had in this school district is coaching basketball at Phillips. With new junior varsity coach and best friend Mike Kestner, we inherited great talent and won 26 of 28 games in our rookie seasons. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but the kids had fun. We copied everything we could from Coach Smith. We didn’t have parents looking over our shoulders with stopwatches, timing us between water breaks. Mainly, we had kids who desperately wanted to play for Phillips. They would do anything we asked of them at practice, they spent time in study hall each day, their grades went up during season, they were a joy to coach. In eleven seasons, we won 123 and lost 31, we kept kids in class and out of trouble, and we helped identify the hard working kids for Coach Ken Miller at the High School. Coach Miller was the best high school coach in North Carolina. In the 80s, his teams won two state championships and played for a third. He ran a tight program that won consistently, and we were proud to emulate his teams as well.
Junior high basketball was a very big deal in the 70s. When Phillips played Culbreth, the only two junior highs then, the gyms would be packed long before game time. High school students would come back to watch, and bragging rights were at stake for high school students still loyal to the Falcons or the Cougars. There weren’t many sports available to students to play, so the student bodies would turn out to support their teams. So many sports are offered in schools today that school spirit has been negatively affected. Students are more likely now to participate than be a spectator. Certainly participation is a good thing, and this school district can be proud that it offers so many opportunities to participate to so many kids. But something is also lost, when school loyalty is replaced by individual participation in a sport that only the parents turn out to watch. How much would our community be diminished if the intensity surrounding the Carolina/Duke rivalry in basketball would be reduced to the excitement level of a Clemson game.
But the best thing about basketball was practice. Of course we had conditioning drills, running, and individual skills time, but each day for about 15 minutes, the top four players from the ninth grade team would challenge Coach Kestner, me, and two others players we would pick up. Those games were brutal. We wanted our top players to play against bigger, more mature bodies to toughen them up. I loved those games, and they loved it when they occasionally beat us. One of the greatest tools a teacher can have is to be able to walk the fine line between being an authority figure, and being a friend. Getting out on the court, playing with them, proving that what we were teaching them actually worked gave us enormous credibility. They trusted us because we actually did what we were asking them to do. It helped to build a family among those in that gym every day. We’d go out to dinner after every game, and further cement that family feeling. Principals and administrators should remember that lesson. Most of them have taught before, but they should continue teaching, at least one semester course each year. They would understand teachers and students better, and their faculties would hold them in higher esteem.
I was privileged to coach 120 players before leaving coaching in 1984 to begin work on a Master’s degree. I’m glad I got my Masters – thanks Mom for nagging me – but I’ve always missed the excitement that comes in mid October when its time to go into the gym and start practice. I could still talk with you about each of those players, what they needed to work on, what they brought to the team. But I’m going to limit myself to just two individual stories. With about 90 seconds left and down by 11 points, David Elliott was undercut and landed on his butt. He immediately grabbed the back of his neck and I was terrified of a serious spinal injury. With his mother watching from the bleachers, the rescue squad took him away on a back board. There was a stunned silence in the normally raucous gym at Phillips, and my players were crying so hard that it was difficult to talk to them in the huddle. But for 90 seconds, they came out of that huddle and played inspired basketball. We won the game, even without the three point shot. Breaking a tradition of many years, we didn’t go out to dinner that night so that we could get to the hospital as quickly as possible to check on David. He didn’t believe us when we told him of our comeback victory that he inspired. He thought we were just trying to make him feel better.
In the fall of 1978, seventh grader Ranzino Smith tried out for the football team, and broke his hip, very badly. He missed that football season, and most of basketball season as well. The following October, when basketball practice started, he earned his way onto the ninth grade team as an eighth grader. Nobody could guard him. We didn’t lose a game for the next two years. He went on to become Chapel Hill High’s all-time leading scorer, a high school All-American, and a member of Coach Smith’s teams at Carolina. He had an incredible work ethic and great support from his parents. Coach Miller made certain that his high school course load was appropriate for major college admissions, and in one of my proudest moments as a basketball coach, I was invited with Coach Miller to accompany Ranzino and his parents to Coach Smith’s office in Carmichael Auditorium to watch Ranzino sign his letter of intent with Carolina.
My final thought on my coaching experience is simply this. I have not found any other endeavor in my 29 years in this school district where race was so insignificant. We make far to many decisions in this school system based on race. In that gym, race was not a factor. The goal was always to find the best 12 young men to play basketball for Phillips. They wanted to win just as much as I did. We had rules about behavior, rules about grades, rules about the way we treated each other – rules that were agreed to by all before the season started. One of those rules was that every player got to participate every day in practice. But when the referee tossed the ball, it was about winning. And they all understood that. It was more important to them than race, and whatever prejudices each of us may have had before we entered the gym on any given day, those prejudices disappeared because the team came first. If we could find a way in this school district to convince all of those with an interest in the welfare of the kids in this town that race isn’t as important as success, that commonly shared goals are more beneficial to the community than individual accomplishments, then we would have taken the most important step toward real progress for everyone. If we could convince the constituents of this district that each school is here to help all of our students, we would have taken a giant step toward healing, and solving many of the problems faced by our district. We cannot achieve that goal when success is measured by statistics that separate by race. We will achieve that goal when each individual student is taught, disciplined, and celebrated without regard to color.
Sadly, the wonderful family of teachers that Herb gathered and nurtured at Phillips was shocked to learn that Herb was being taken from us by the Board of Education on a thinly disguised race-based decision involving a “new concept” of co-principals in the junior highs. Herb was reassigned to Ephesus Elementary, where he built another fine family of teachers. Phillips suffered through 3 years and 4 principals before Jenny Kitzmueller restored order to the school. Herb’s faculty worked and played together very hard. Teacher workdays often included meals together, and vicious volleyball games. One of the great ladies of the Chapel Hill community, Annie B. Talbert, repeatedly hosted the faculty in her home and helped to make us a family. That family feeling was transferred to our students. Phillips was close-knit. Gerry House, Dave Thaden, Carlotta Armstrong, Freddie Kiger are just a few of the people Herb brought to this system. He chose good people and gave them freedom to do their jobs.
I got to teach American History from Reconstruction to the present in a year-long course. By my third year, I had become a decent teacher, but the fifth year, a demanding one. My ninth graders were ‘invited’ to come to Davis Library on Carolina’s campus for an orientation because that’s where I expected them to do their research. Today, ninth graders don’t write research papers. Our curriculum today is so much weaker than it was then. But the best thing about classroom teaching at Phillips in the early years is exactly the same as the best thing about classroom teaching at CHHS for the last 16 years – the opportunity to get to teach kids and watch them grow up.
After Herb left, the state changed the curriculum, placing Economic, Legal and Political Systems as a statewide course for all 9th graders in the fall of 1985. It was placed at that grade level in spite of the fact that 9th graders aren’t particularly interested in economics because, in the infinite wisdom of the legislature, more of our students would learn economics since 25% of North Carolina’s young people don’t finish high school. By then, I was a teacher of 13 years experience and had reduced what you’re supposed to learn in Education School to two basic principles: If you want to be a good teacher, believe passionately in what you are teaching, and treat your students as real human beings who deserve your respect. If you can do those two things, everything else will be fine for you. The new curriculum would cause me to violate my first principle, so I transferred to CHHS in the fall of 1985. The first 11 years at Phillips continue to hold my best memories from teaching – the enthusiasm of my players, the close family of faculty members, the best leadership I’ve ever enjoyed in a school.
Chapel Hill High School was a different world. It’s hard to build a teaching family when there are over 100 teachers, so the High School tried to do it by academic departments. The History department I joined was an amazing collection of individual talent. Mike Hickman, Fred Kiger, Houston Roberson, Al Baldwin and I comprised a group of five single, male prima donnas, each with huge egos and large followings in the student body. We might not have been the best academic department at the high school, but we knew we were the coolest. The married members of the department also had quirky personalities, but the department revolved around the five of us. I knew these people, and others at the high school, by reputation. Teaching with them in person, I found that their reputations as teachers were incredibly accurate. I’ve always been a teacher that gets to know students well, and keeps in contact with them when they move on to the next level. Phillips students would come back to visit after moving on CHHS and tell me about these people. Students get it right. I’ve always believed that the best teacher evaluators are students. Throw out the top 10% and the bottom 10% and use the middle range. Those evaluations will be ones that you can trust to tell you who the good teachers are. Evaluations by an administrator who sees you teach once a year, and who knows you from parent phone calls really isn’t a very good evaluation system.
The first thing I learned about teaching at the high school is that it’s much harder than at the junior high. I used to think I worked hard at Phillips. Grading is the same, class length was the same, class size was the same – the difference is class preparation. Eleventh graders are so much more knowledgeable and mature and confident than ninth graders. I very quickly learned that my own base of knowledge had to grow, and quickly, in order not to have to stand in front of classes and utter, “I don’t know” many times each day. It’s important for a teacher to be able to say those words to his students, but not too often. It destroys credibility. So the workload increased, and the pressure increased, because I was surrounded by the good teachers in my own department, and legends like Bud Stuart and Jim Tomberg in Math, Susan Oliver, Linda Barnard and the incredible Marjorie Lancaster in English, Gloria Van Dam in French, Phyllis Nicholson in Science, the excellence that existed througout the Cultural Arts Department. Arrogance isn’t exactly the right word, but there was an atmosphere, a quiet expectation that all us new folks had better become excellent very quickly, because that is what was expected at Chapel Hill High School. Sadly, that atmosphere no longer exists at CHHS.
And it was an amazing place. With a student body of about 1300, roughly half of the enrollment of the two high schools in Chapel Hill today, CHHS in the 80’s produced approximately 25 Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists each year, more than the two high schools today, and CHHS produced more Morehead Scholarship winners in the 80s than both schools did in the 90s. It was an academic wonderland that allowed students great freedom in course selection. The long arm of the State Department of Public Instruction hadn’t become so omnipresent. And since it was the only high school in the district, and since it was widely acknowledged as the state’s best high school, it operated with a great deal of independence from Lincoln Center. In the days before School Governance Councils, the faculty really ran CHHS. Academic decisions were made in faculty meetings, where education professionals argued over serious academic issues. It was so exciting to be a part of a group of individuals who cared passionately about their students and their profession. Marvin Koenig, who lasted six years as principal, the longest tenure at CHHS in 30 years, was a skillful manager of the high-strung personalities on his faculty, and the school reached its peak in the late 80s. Ask a current CHHS teacher when the last meaningful discussion of an academic question occurred at a faculty meeting. There are discussions about ID cards and dress codes, but not academics.
Even though I had 13 years experience under my belt, I felt like a rookie again, and like a rookie teacher, I got to teach all the courses the other members of the department didn’t want to teach. That still happens today, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It forces new teachers to learn new subject matter, and to plan new lessons instead of relying on what worked for them in another school or setting. And after 11 different course titles in the first 3 years, I finally settled into my role as a specialist in recent American History.
In an example of the independence of CHHS, the History Department chose to present American History in semester courses with specialties that students could select, based on their interest and on teacher preference. So instead of a survey course in American History from discovery to modern day, crammed into 9 months without enough time for in-depth discussion or exploration, we presented courses in the Civil War, taught by Fred Kiger; the Gilded Age, taught by Mike Hickman; Twenties and Thirties, taught by Al Baldwin; Contemporary America, taught by me. We added African-American Studies, taught by Clarence Williams, and Women’s Studies, taught by Judy Kalleberg. These courses acquired different reputations for difficulty, style of teaching, research and writing. From a teaching standpoint, we were working with material that we had learned in detail. From the student’s standpoint, they were in a course that THEY HAD CHOSEN, not one that had been chosen for them. That makes a tremendous difference in attitude, and attitude has a great deal to do with success. And we had the freedom, time, and creativity to explore serious issues in different ways. Real research was possible. Like my early years at Phillips, this was a teaching/learning heaven in a public school system.
We lost this glorious situation gradually, and after a long fight with Lincoln Center, because the state had implemented an End-of-Course test in US History. Since our students could complete their American History requirement by taking Civil War, and Twenties and Thirties, there were gaps in their knowledge, so their performance on the state test was not as high as other disciplines in Chapel Hill. So, worshipping at the god of test scores, Lincoln Center made us abandon a superior method of teaching students in order to uphold our public image. (Our students consistently beat the rest of the state, even while using our unorthodox method.). So today, CHHS teaches American History like the rest of North Carolina does. Given North Carolina’s standing in public education in the United States. I’m not sure its wise to have CHHS follow the example set by the rest of North Carolina. That’s what state testing, and a timid Lincoln Center have done to quality education on High School Road. Sadly, that situation continues to worsen. When East Chapel Hill High School opened in 1996, its History Department devised an alternative plan that proved successful. Next fall, Lincoln Center is imposing a uniform curriculum on the two high schools, following the state model. The goal is to have every course be taught the same way from the same lesson plans. Ask current high school teachers. They are, justifiably, horrified. Any possibility of a truly creative approach to curriculum is being discouraged by a Lincoln Center that seems to believe that Raleigh, rather than its own teachers, knows best how to educate Chapel Hill’s students.
While the shift in the curriculum was a terrible blow to education at the high school, it was not the disaster that was forced upon us as the decade of the 90s began. Elementary schools were overcrowded in the late 80s and early 90s. Instead of planning ahead properly, the school board reacted to the overcrowding by shifting 6th grade to the junior high schools, embracing the trendy ‘middle school concept’, and shifted the 9th grade to CHHS. This decision, made in reaction to overcrowded elementary schools, is the worst decision made by a school board in my 29 years in Chapel Hill. It continues to hurt the quality of education at both high schools in Chapel Hill, and will continue to do so until some new study begins a new trend back to junior high schools. Why was this such a disastrous decision? Because it damages the educational experience for all students, grades 6 through 12. Here’s how.
The ‘middle school concept’ was based on the idea that self-esteem issues are paramount for younger teens. Making certain that they felt good about themselves was thought to be more important than academic rigor. I spent 13 years in the junior high school world. What happened to Phillips after the middle school concept was implemented was a weakening of curriculum, a lowering of standards, and emphasis on good grades and happy people. Parents saw their kids’ report cards and they were excellent. Why question a system when your kid is making great grades. But they weren’t learning very much. Don’t believe me? Find a current middle school student in Chapel Hill and ask him or her what was learned in school today. Ask the student to describe the last time that he or she faced academically challenging material. I’ve asked that question year after year to my high school students. They rarely have anything to say about challenging assignments in middle school. They can recall projects, making things with poster board, designing puppets, etc. Ask them about writing research papers. No answer. I still have teaching friends at Phillips who work very hard, and I am not indicting them for lack of effort. They are doing what the school board and Lincoln Center are asking them to do. If middle school is so bad, why are our test scores so good? Easy to answer that one. In the 80s, before uniform state testing occurred, this school district would compare itself with New Trier in Illinois, Walnut Hills in Cincinnati, Palo Alto in California. We would measure ourselves against the best in the country. In the 90s, we measure ourselves against the rest of North Carolina. Of course we look good compared to the rest of the state. The rest of North Carolina is not who we should be competing against. We should be competing against affluent university communities like Chapel Hill in other parts of the country.
At the high school level, the addition of the 9th grade was a disaster for ninth graders and for the high school. When freshmen were brought into the high school environment, the rules had to change. Our 18-year-old seniors, who were ready for responsibility, independence, and the freedom to exercise their judgment, were forced to operate under the same schedule, rules and conditions as 14-year-old freshmen. An hour-long lunch with off-campus permission for upperclassmen is a terrific way to say to students that they are trusted to make wise decisions for themselves. An hour-long lunch for freshmen on campus is a recipe for trouble. So the high school began to change its rules to accommodate the immature. And the high school began to dumb down its curriculum because 9th graders weren’t ready to perform in the marvelous academic environment that CHHS had been. Combine the lowering of academic expectations with the testing program measuring CHHS against the rest of North Carolina, and you have a perfect plan for ruining academic excellence at CHHS. Don’t believe this theory either? Here’s the test. Find a teacher who was on the faculty at CHHS from 1985 – 1990, before freshmen were added. There are about fifteen of those folks left in town. Ask any of those teachers about the quality of academics at CHHS following the arrival of the ninth grade. Majorie Lancaster, the best teacher I’ve ever seen in this system, told me in the mid 90s that her honor’s English classes had been reduced to the difficulty level of her regular English classes from the mid 80s. That was, and continues to be, the legacy of 9th graders at CHHS. The perfect opportunity exists to correct that error right now in Chapel Hill. Remove ninth graders from the two high schools and a third high school won’t be needed for over a decade. Building two new elementary schools to accommodate the return of the 6th graders is a much less expensive proposition than building a comprehensive 4-year high school. The taxpayers save money, and education gets better for kids grades 7 – 12.
What kept the high school interesting and exciting for 16 years, even as the academic quality declined was that the kids really didn’t change very much from year to year, and the kids that walked into my room on a daily basis were terrific. My classroom arrangement was unusual. No desks, but tables arranged in a square so that all students could see all other students. I did it to promote discussion. In 1992 I had four excellent students, two males and two females, facing each other on a corner of that rectangle. The exchanges among those 4 were lively all year long. When the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill congressional hearings occurred, those discussions acquired an edge. One of those students, Leah Boucher, came in to see me at lunch one day after those hearings and wanted to do an independent study semester about women’s issues. Her semester’s work led to a second semester, when we were joined by 9 other young women. Their work led to the initial curriculum for a women’s history course at the High School. Charles Irons, another of those students, is about to finish his doctorate in history at the University of Virginia. Teaching history at the High School brought with it wonderful rewards because the students were so engaged, interested, and active. I can list a dozen former students who served in the Peace Corps, another dozen who entered the Teach for America program. The caliber of young people that I was fortunate enough to encounter made the job exciting, challenging, rewarding, joyous.
My 26th year in teaching brought an entirely new experience. With Fred Kiger’s departure, the AP American History course lost a legendary teacher. I had known Freddie since he entered the school system at Phillips. He has no equal in my time with the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools at the art of storytelling, the power to mesmerize a class with the spoken word. He was the most popular teacher ever to walk the halls at CHHS. But replacing a legend at the high school is very easy. Because Freddie taught mostly juniors, those students graduated in another year, and I was the AP American teacher people remembered after that, until June 2002, when my last group walked the stage in the Smith Center, and the students who remembered me at CHHS are gone. The entirely new experience for me was having a class of honors students. For a quarter of a century, I had always taught classes that were not ability grouped. Having three classes of students that I had chosen for their ability was a revelation. It is a much easier job to teach those students. Oh, I had to know more, and creating 12 new tests at the elevated level of difficulty was enormously time-consuming. The pressure of having 65 students ready to take an AP exam for which they can earn college credit and save their parents thousands of dollars is a little daunting, but the difficulties are far outweighed by the joy of having a room full of scholars in a course they had chosen to take, with a teacher they knew they were getting. The level of discussion is elevated; the joy of leading a class that wants to learn and perform is exhilarating. The best days in such a class are the days in which the instructor plays traffic cop to the discussion while the students share knowledge with each other, and all, teacher included, have their minds broadened by what transpires. Educational research shows time and again that classes that are not grouped by ability do no harm to gifted kids, while having a positive effect on those with lesser ability. I believe that, but I also know from experience that grouped classes of gifted kids are likely to attain a higher level of academic excellence because the students push each other. However, what those classes gain in elevated levels of analysis is offset by the lack of diversity in that classroom. My AP American History students suffered from a lack of cultural diversity. Discussion about the racial divide in America in the 60s had more edge and impact if there were black students in the room. I taught women’s studies classes for 2 years, always without male students in the room. Those discussions suffered in the same way, from lack of real perspective and real passion that is present when the arguments offered come from those who are informed by their experiences.
My second year of AP, we changed the student selection process to an open enrollment for AP American History. We took any junior who wanted to enroll in the course. Now, Lincoln Center is pushing for open enrollment in all AP classes. I think that in History, it is a good idea. But I’m not so sure that Science, Math, and Foreign Language AP classes should be open to any student without prerequisites or permission of the instructor. It sets a student up for failure. Allowing students to sample difficult courses isn’t a bad thing, but locking students into a course that they can’t handle is a bad thing. In most of the best colleges in America, students can sample classes before committing to them. Current policy at CHHS is that once enrolled in an AP course, it’s almost impossible to get out of that course, even if the student has demonstrated no aptitude during the first semester. So, the policy is to encourage students to challenge themselves, but show them no mercy when they make a mistake. And students will make that mistake of registering for a course they cannot handle. Shouldn’t the school allow them to learn from their mistakes rather than punishing the student for making it by forcing him to remain in a class for which he is not prepared? A second AP conundrum is about to develop. Both high schools are dangerously close to requiring students enrolled in AP classes to take AP exams at the end of the school year. The cost is considerable, almost $80.00 per exam. Teachers know which students will do well, and which students have no hope of scoring well enough to earn credit. Students often ask us if it is in their best interest to take the exams. It has nothing to do with high school grades since AP exam grades are not prepared by ETS until early July. Why do the schools want to require students to take the exams? It’s all about national rankings. US News & World Report and other ranking publications measure a high school’s worth by the number of exams given – not by the scores attained by the students. So by allowing open enrollment, by requiring students to stay in the AP classes even if they are not qualified, and by requiring the students to pay for and take the exams, the schools’ reputations are enhanced. But are the students appropriately served, or have they been horribly used? Teachers are constantly told to treat students as individuals. Yet the school system, in this case, is seeking only comforting numbers at the expense, financially and emotionally, of its students.
When I was on the faculty at Phillips, my primary responsibility was teaching history, but I was better known as the basketball coach. At the High School, my primary responsibility was still teaching, but the most time consuming, most enjoyable, and most notorious role was as the teacher in charge of producing the yearbook. I inherited a staff in the fall of 1985 from the previous adviser. That staff didn’t have very many good students and most of them had taken yearbook because they wanted an easy course with a good grade. It was a tough year with kids who didn’t care very much about the quality of the product. Advising a yearbook staff is very much like coaching a basketball team. So much of it is about recruiting talented people with good attitudes who want to do their best work for you. We were able to get great kids to work on the 1987 book. With the great success of that book, talented, dedicated kids competed for positions on yearbook staff for the next decade, and the book kept getting bigger, and better. The spring of l988 brought our first Macintosh computer and we entered the desktop publishing era that fall. In 1995, we converted all photos to digital images, and in 1998, we shifted all of the prepress preparation to the yearbook room, bringing complete control of the entire publication, except for the actual printing and assembling of the books themselves, into the hands of my students. Only one other high school in North Carolina, and very few in the country, produce yearbooks this way. Yearbook became a marvelous learning experience, not only for the technical expertise they acquired, but also for the discipline of meeting deadlines with quality work, and the responsibility of raising as much as $110,000 (for the 1996 book). Yearbook at CHHS is self-financing. The only school funds used pay the teacher’s salary. All computer hardware and software are purchased through yearbook funds. It was an independent operation giving kids terrific opportunities to exhibit leadership and responsibility. Sadly, the current administration has taken much of that independence, and much of the freedom of the student press away.
Another reason that I like what yearbook does for kids is that it requires tremendous commitment for two years to a difficult job that is generally unrecognized by their student peers. Athletes and performers get to enjoy applause and cheers, and have their performances celebrated in the newspapers. It takes about 30 kids, working all year long to create a yearbook. About a dozen of those kids are involved as editors in planning from March of their junior years. They live with the project until the books are distributed in late May. So where is their reward for 15 months of work: satisfaction with a job well done, the opportunity to work with great people, the creation of a family atmosphere in the yearbook room. It is an unselfish act by these kids, and for most of them, it actually hurts their GPA because Yearbook I isn’t a weighted course. The yearbook room becomes ‘home’ for many of the staff members. We had a refrigerator, a microwave, and a stereo for them to enjoy since we spent so many hours there after school and on weekends. I charted my hours for the production of the 1999 book, recording only the hours spent outside of school time. The total topped 900 hours for the school year. The reward for me was terrific friendships formed with the people on staff, friendships that will last a lifetime. With so many hours spent together working toward a common goal, it is not surprising that close relationships formed. Again, it is so much like coaching and spending all those hours in a gym with your players. I got to choose the people who joined our staff, and I chose people who were qualified, who could work together in a team-oriented situation, and who I wanted to work with. Some years, I did a better job choosing than others, and all staffs were different, but on balance, it was enormously rewarding. Making a book got old, but becoming a significant person in the lives of those students never got old. I’ve attended the funerals of three of them, I’ve been to many weddings, and I’m beginning to enjoy their kids. The best days in the yearbook room for me where when former staff members came back to visit and shared their lives with me.
Our best book was the 1999 edition, created by the best group of editors I ever worked with. But the 2000 book had the most impact. It was a 75th anniversary edition, and we found living graduates from almost all of the CHHS graduating classes back to 1925. We talked with them about their memories of Chapel Hill High, and we examined all of the old yearbooks. The result was a history book of Chapel Hill since 1925. Alumni, especially older alumni, were very excited that we had remembered them and very eager to talk about their memories. That special edition sold out quickly. Reading those stories paints a picture of a changing school, and a changing community. Pictures and stories help people remember people. Making a yearbook is about people, and that should always be the reward in the education business. Sadly, the future of the yearbook experience at Chapel Hill High is in jeopardy. Changing state course requirements and stunning inflexibility from building and Lincoln Center administrators have created the current situation that makes putting together a good staff very difficult. Past principals allowed two-year yearbook students to meet their vocational course credit requirement, since yearbook students learned the same graphics skills taught by the vocational graphics course. The current principal, and Lincoln Center have decided that vocational course credit can’t be given unless the course is taught by a vocational teacher. Once again, rules get in the way of serving students, and in this case, the larger school community.
This was at the bottom of the story and looks like an outline for continuing “The Story”
- Parents – volunteers, changing priorities and attitudes.
- Seniors – 4th year, college process acceleration
- College – acceptance, preparation, writing is huge deficiency
- Thanks – seeing learning, hearing learning, reading learning, Sam Ervin, Dean Smith, Bill Friday