Principal optimistic about school's future

I think when students are engaged with a place they want to be and see the relevance in what they're doing, they learn - and learn well," says Rex Bolinger, the educator who plans to serve as first principal of Herron High School, a charter school aimed at preparing kids for college. Rex Bolinger will be principal of the new Herron High School, recently approved by Mayor Bart Peterson.

Herron High is one of three charter school proposals that have recently been approval by Mayor Bart Peterson. Herron High will open in the fall of 2006.

It will be the first secondary school in the city to offer a classic liberal arts curriculum that combines a humanities focus including history, political science, geography, English grammar, composition, literature, art and music with the study of Latin and logic, mathematics and science. "I believe it's the strongest education to create the thinkers and creative people we need in our society," Bolinger says, noting that Herron will stress what educational philanthropist Bill Gates has called "the three R's": rigor, relevance and relationships.

Although the exact site for Herron High it is not clear yet, the school will be located somewhere in the neighborhood around 16th and Delaware streets, an area currently associated with the former Herron School of Fine Art. As far as Bolinger is concerned, the inner city location is an advantage. "The blending of different cultures and different types of students creates such a rich environment." Indeed, Bolinger has moved into a house not far from where he looks forward to working. He began his career as a math teacher, but eventually found himself involved with school administration. Bolinger was principal of Angola High School, where he helped create a successful "middle college" program. His experience in Angola led to a position with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., where he established connections with the Gates Foundation.

Bolinger says that he was once a charter schools opponent but has changed his mind. "Charter schools done well can really serve a niche that other public schools can't. The charter experience ought to be a unique experience for children that they aren't getting in other public schools."

Charters are public schools, funded with tax dollars, but free to offer curricula outside the scope of mainstream schools. Parents apply for their kids to attend charters and admission is based on a lottery. Herron's first class will consist of 100 students. Its maximum student body will be 400.

Herron High will offer students an alternative to conventional high schools - Bolinger thinks that's crucial. He calls the conventional high school model "stagnant," adding, "That model worked when you could drop out of high school and still enter middle-class America. Now we live in a global society and it's not about dropping out and going to work for International Harvester or GM."

At Herron, teachers and administrators will keep track of every student's progress across the entire range of subjects on a weekly basis. Every teacher will address the total student so that no student falls behind in one discipline or another. "We're all going to be teachers of literacy and numeracy," Bolinger says. "That's the way we bring students to a level of preparedness."

The challenge, Bolinger says, is to educate every student. "We know so much more about the brain and how students learn than we did 10 years ago. If we don't use that information then aren't we subject to being considered for educational malpractice?"

For more information about Herron High School, contact jtaft@harrisoncenter.org.

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