Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Paschal High School


by Bud Kennedy, Star Telegram Writer

PASCHAL High School, Fort Worth’s oldest, is now ranked in Newsweek as one of America’s best. Great. So how long will Fort Worth put up with having only one national-caliber high school?

Paschal's winning academic record is remarkable. This year’s seniors on Forest Park Boulevard included 11 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. Based on advanced placement tests, Newsweek ranked PASCHAL No. 3 regionally, No. 12 in Texas and No. 200 nationally.

Among nearby schools, only Colleyville, Heritage and Grapevine ranked higher. Carroll in Southlake is the only other local school among 804 on the list. Isn’t it time other cities and neighborhoods expected better schools?

Money is no excuse. On average, Arlington Heights, Southwest, Western Hills and most suburban schools serve wealthier families than PASCHAL. Their children have more resources. The nine other Fort Worth high schools serve families with less money than PASCHAL. Yet those children also need the most attention – because their education and training will decide the future wealth or poverty of Fort Worth.

Almost 20 years after a PASCHAL math teacher set out to build the district’s best Honors program, other schools are closer to competing. Arlington Heights, on the West side, had the city’s second-best SAT scores last year, although nearly 70 points behind PASCHAL. The PASCHAL Honors students – almost half the senior class - average a 1310 score!!

Dunbar, in east Fort Worth, is second in Merit Scholar semifinalists. Western Hills in Benbrook consistently ranks high. Trimble Technical, near downtown, earned an “exemplary” state rating for a high passing rate on the state achievement test. In a more comprehensive rating last fall, Texas Monthly ranked Tech and Southwest as the district’s most effective high schools for students at all achievement levels. (PASCHAL fell to 10th of 13 and also trailed suburban schools at the same income level, including Brewer, Springtown and Haltom.)

Yet no other city school and almost no Texas public school can come close to PASCHAL’s success rate with the very smartest students. At the recent “Radio Shack Scholars Dinner” rewarding Fort Worth’s best students citywide, close to one third were students from PASCHAL. The cheers of 389 Panthers overwhelmed any for the other 12 high schools represented at the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall.

PASCHAL is not one of the district’s “special interest” schools marketed to draw transfer students – formerly called “magnet” schools. It is simply a school with an academic championship history that is attractive to both transfer students and selective homebuyers. About a third of Paschal's top honor students chose to transfer from their neighborhood schools.

John Hamilton, the 40-year math teacher who launched Paschal’s intensified program in 1984 to compete with magnet schools, is the academic version of Dunbar’s Hall of Fame boys’ basketball coach, Robert Hughes. He said Paschal’s success with high achievers is no secret. “It takes continuity,” he said this week, preparing to teach another summer of SAT preparation classes – sort of an academic summer camp for competitive scholars. “Most of all, it takes a pro-academics attitude in the building and in the entire community. What makes my day is the academic success of PASCHAL students…..Some schools don’t have the same person pushing hard year after year. You have to really value academic success. It’s the reason we have school.”

Ultimately, that’s the reason we need to strengthen all our public schools in Fort Worth and Texas -- to teach the next generation and to build a more successful community, city, and state.

A sociology professor at Texas A&M University has the official title of Texas’ “state demographer.” His is the loudest voice warning that Texans must improve the academic performance of all public schools now – particularly for the growing numbers of minority and low-income children. “It’s a question of what we want for the future of Texas,” Steve Murdock said by phone Friday from a conference in Austin. “It’s the difference between having a state of well-educated, productive citizens – or of less well-educated citizens. The difference statewide will be billions of dollars in socioeconomic needs, billions of dollars in total income, billions of dollars in tax revenue.”

The future of Fort Worth and Texas depends on how well we educate all our children. This city needs more than one showcase high school.