Colorblind and Rising: What’s Behind The Surprising success of Cleveland’s Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School?

2015-03-05T15:44:30+00:00September 23rd, 2014|

By Daniel J. McGraw

Rich Osborne is slowly walking through the gym of Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s High School (VASJ), a Catholic school on the east side of Cleveland. Villa Angela-St. Joseph has been around for about 25 years now, since the separately operated all-boys and all-girls schools pretty much had to combine as a coed school to save their existence. When Osborne went to school – he graduated from St. Joe’s in 1969 – the gym was the center of much of his life.

VASJ President Richard J. Osborne (class of ’69) and wife, Della, leaving for the St. Joseph High School junior prom, 1968. They also went to senior prom together in 1969 and were married in 1970.

VASJ President Richard J. Osborne (class of ’69) and wife, Della, leaving for the St. Joseph High School junior prom, 1968. They also went to senior prom together in 1969 and were married in 1970. [Photo: Richard J. Osborne]

For instance, he asked a Villa Angela girl named Della to dance with him at a mixer here in this gym. Rich and Della had known each other in grade school, but, since she was a year older, he was shy about asking her out. That night in the gym, he saw her standing with some of her girlfriends and got up the nerve. “A lot of stuff happened in here,” Osborne says with a laugh and a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

They slow-danced on the tile floor and later married, had four children and, now, nine grandchildren, together. Osborne doesn’t remember which band was playing that night, but it was the late 60s and it was probably the Mods or the Choir or the Raspberries or one of those famous Cleveland bands from back then that made the St. Joe’s dances the place to be when the baby boomers were coming of age.

I remember being in this gym a lot too. We played CYO basketball every Saturday morning when I was in grade school, and I remember distinctly watching Pat Lyons (he has since passed away), the all-state St. Joe’s basketball player who scored an amazing 24 points per game in 1970. We all chanted “P Ly’s Come in” before those high school games started, and he would always then drain his first shot, a warm-up jumper from 20 feet. It all happened in a daze of purple — this gym used to be called the “Purple Palace,” after the low-resolution fluorescent lights that bounced photons off the blue and red tile floor, creating a purple veil of eeriness that confused opponents and helped the home team win some games.

Clark Kellogg, VASJ graduate ('79) and CBS Sports announcer

Clark Kellogg, VASJ graduate (’79) and CBS Sports broadcaster

Arguably the greatest high school athlete Cleveland has ever produced played in the Purple Palace. Clark Kellogg went to St. Joe’s from 1975-79, grew up in East Cleveland, and then went on to star at Ohio State University and play in the NBA for five years before his knees blew out. For the past 20 years, Kellogg has been in every living room in the country during the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament; he has long been one of the lead basketball analysts for CBS Sports. He told Belt Magazine for this story that his time at St. Joe’s was the “experience [that] prepared me for almost everything in my career.”

Osborne points out more memories and important experiences as we stand in that storied gym. The stage at one end of the gym is where the school put on plays and had concerts and graduations through the years. Up in the balcony, boys and girls tried to get away from the Marianist brothers and Ursuline nuns who chaperoned at the dances. And, as 2,000 boys used to go here to school, the daily gym classes were pretty packed.

But unlike so many baby boomers who are now pining for the good old days, Osborne, now married to his slow-dance partner for 44 years, is adamant that the best days for this school on Cleveland’s east side are right now and tomorrow. A former journalist and now president of Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Osborne stands firm that the school is not just in stable condition but growing.

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School President Rich Osborne

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School President Rich Osborne – Photo Bob Perkoski

The two schools used to have a combined 2,000-3,000 students back in the 1970s, but five years ago enrollment was down to about 265. The conventional opinion among alums of both schools was not if the school was going to close, but when. “Each fall, the school would open, and it was almost as if we were saying, ‘We’re not dead this year,’” Osborne says.

Most thought VASJ story was going to play out along the lines of the typical decline of an inner-city Midwest Catholic school script: there has been job and population loss in the city, increasing poverty in the neighborhood. Many white Catholics left for the suburbs a few generations ago, and many graduates no longer felt ties to their alma mater. Older St. Joe’s grads, most of them white, saw black kids hanging out on the corner of the school at East 185th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard after school. As a guy who graduated in the mid-80s told me, “You’d drive by, and you’d think that isnt my school.

When the enrollment dropped to those dangerous lows about five years ago, the alumni weren’t thrilled with ponying up money, because who wants to throw money at a school whose shelf life is getting shorter by the day? And while Cleveland cheerleaders like to point to all the quaint urban neighborhood rebirth, this part of Northeast Ohio has never really been in that trendy category. VASJ sits at the border of Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood and the City of Euclid, and on both sides of that border much of the working middle class left a long time ago. Crime and Section 8 housing moved into the void.

Thomas Gallucci's ('03 alumnus) English class at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School

Thomas Gallucci’s (’03 alumnus) English class at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School – Photo Bob Perkoski

But in the past few months, an odd thing has happened. Last spring, VASJ graduated 38 seniors. This fall, about 130 freshmen are enrolled. VASJ is suddenly the fastest-growing private school in Ohio, with a total of 420 students. This is happening in a city that has lost about 20 percent of its population in the past few decades, and on a side of town that has one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

What caused the turnaround? While we walk outside the gym – over by the football practice field that abuts Lake Erie – Osborne explains the unusual marketing strategy that upped enrollment so dramatically: turning down applicants. That’s not a misprint. The school started getting more students when it started turning away more.

“We decided that if we are going to serve our students, those students and their families had to buy into what we were doing,” Osborne says. “If you do not accept what we expect, and do not appreciate what it is we are doing in terms of education, well, it is not going to be a good marriage.” About one-third of their applicants don’t make the cut.

[blocktext align=”right”]“The idea that this school or any school is place where you drop off your problems, forget it.”[/blocktext]“The idea that this school or any school is place where you drop off your problems, forget it,” he continues. “That doesn’t mean we are selective to such an extreme that a kid who may have struggled academically is not going to be able to thrive here. But we have to see the potential.”

VASJ realized they had to improve their product to keep it alive, and one way to do that was to restrict who can purchase it. Marketing geniuses often tell you that approach is dicey; marketing exclusivity is great when a business is growing (because a business can limit the product and raise the price), but real risky when a business is spiraling downward. In this case, VASJ was taking a huge risk, because if their enrollment dropped by even 50 or so more they would probably have had to close.

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School  – Photo Bob Perkoski

But the enrollment chart line is now spiking upward. Plus, the 20,000 or so alumni from both schools have noticed. Donations are up too, including a $250,000 gift to refurbish the Purple Palace, which will soon have new stands and lighting and, eventually, better restrooms and concession stands.

“This school is much better than it was when I went here,” Osborne says. “Having boys and girls together makes them learn about each other and respect each other. The school is half men and women, and half black and white. And we are proud of those numbers, because we are trying to be more like the real world than some isolated institution that doesn’t prepare its kids for how things are in the world out there.”

It is even better than “the world” when it comes to race and gender: VASJ is one of the most integrated schools in the country, and it focuses on gender equality, not just male sports prowess.

xxx

Tim Misny, St. Joseph High School graduate, class of 1973, is mostly known as that lawyer who pops up on the TV all over the country and tells viewers that if you hire him, he’ll “Make Them Pay.” He lives in a mansion he calls “Misnyland, ” on 55-acres in tony Waite Hill.

Misny was one of those alumni who wasn’t too involved in the school prior to Osborne’s appointment as president about three years ago (Osborne served as board president prior to that). “I can’t speak for the other alumni, but I get approached all the time to work on political campaigns and fundraisers, and you’re always just too busy, with work and family and kids,” Misny said. “But Osborne was infectious in how he told me that the school was going to emphasize what we have always been. That is, a school with middle-class kids who don’t come from rich families and who have to work hard to make it.”

Tim Misny, alumnus, and President Richard Osborne at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School

Tim Misny, alumnus, and President Richard Osborne at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School – Photo Bob Perkoski

“The kids there now are just like I was, and race doesn’t matter,” Misny says. He tells of his middle-class upbringing in Euclid, sharing the attic bedroom with his brother, and working cleaning toilets and emptying trash barrels at a local golf courses in order to pay his way through St. Joe’s. “When I go in there and walk those halls,” he says, “I see kids who were just like me. These boys and girls know that this is their ticket to a better life, and they work hard at it. It’s really great to see.”

The two schools have always had a mix of rich and middle-class though their history. Villa Angela Academy was founded in the mid-1870s, as a boarding school for girls on the eastern edge of the city (about ten miles from downtown) on property they had purchased on Lake Erie at the mouth of Euclid Creek. St. Joseph High School was opened in 1950 a few miles east (and also on the lake) of Villa Angela as the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland saw the Catholic population moving to suburbs like Euclid and into Lake County.

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School

Tim Misny, alumnus, Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School – Photo Bob Perkoski

Because of those locations, the schools have drawn rich kids from the wealthier suburbs of Bratenahl and Shaker Heights, but also the middle-class, bungalow-living kids from Collinwood and Euclid and Eastlake. For Clark Kellogg, that mix was part of the attraction for his parents and him. His father was a police officer, his mother, a part-time hospital worker, and he grew up in a neighborhood in East Cleveland that was almost all black. In 1975, when he started at St. Joe’s, the school was almost all white.

“People think I went there for the athletics, but my father wanted us kids to broaden our horizons and experience the lives of different people and cultures in Cleveland,” Kellogg says. “It was little difficult at times for me, but that experience prepared me for almost everything in my career in playing pro basketball and broadcasting.”

“I love to see VASJ growing again, and I’ll do anything to help my school,” he says. “What is interesting to me is that when I go back to the school and talk to the kids, race doesn’t come up with them. The school is pretty much half black and half white, but to the students, they don’t even notice. In their world, it is irrelevant. And I really think that is where VASJ is on the forefront of many things right now and maybe part of the reason more students are going there.”

Sister Joanne Gross

Sister Joanne Gross

Joanne Gross is an Ursuline nun, a lawyer, a former policy advisor for Cuyahoga County Council, and is currently president of the Catholic Community Connection, a division of Cleveland Catholic Charities which oversees education, health care, human services and senior living ministries. She grew up in the St. Jerome’s parish just west of Villa Angela, and graduated from the all-girls school in 1973.

Gross admits that it’s taken a long time for grads of both schools to accept the merger, “sort of like an arranged marriage.” But she said a big part of the acceptance is the fact that the school has “worked hard to make the VA women a big part of the basis for the new school’s history.”

“If you walk down the hallways [of VASJ], you see all the pictures of athletes and the sports trophies – and that is great – but I have always loved the fact that they also honor all the men and women who achieved things outside of sports,” Gross says. ”I see great women being honored and I also see the girls there now being very confident with who they are and where they fit in at the school.”

“I agree with Rich [Osborne] that things are better now than when I went to high school,” she says. “One of the things I am seeing at VASJ is the fact that gender equality is not really even thought about by the students. The girls and boys don’t think it is important, because the equality exists. That’s a huge change.”

And a bigger change is the perceived difference in the quality of the education at the school now. “I think five years or more ago, the thinking was we had a school that needed to be maintained and a staff to pay and we needed to fill the seats to pay for those costs,” says Don Dailey, class of ‘70, a retired managing partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers and an adjunct faculty member at John Carroll University.

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School“There had been a decline in the quality of education and we had discipline issues,” he continues. “We had lots families who were no longer convinced they could get a quality education at VASJ and they felt it was a place they didn’t feel comfortable with. So we made changes. We are not a playground or baby-sitting service. Once we established those changes, parents and their kids started seeing that we agreed on what our purpose is. It brought the people back.”

Dailey and his wife, Mary Jo, have thought so much of the changes at VASJ that they wrote a check for $250,000, half of it gift, half of it loan. In August, the school honored the Daileys during a ceremony highlighting the new look for the six-decade old gym. As part of the ceremony, Bishop Robert W. Gries blessed the gym with holy water, sprinkling some on the backboards and rims, presumably to ensure that the Purple Palace home court advantage was preserved.

xxx

In a recent interview with Reason.com, author and journalist P.J. O’Rourke commented on the innocence of youth: “Children have not too much sense of futurity and no sense of history.” I would add an addendum that children do, however, usually have a better sense of the now than their adult counterparts do.

I came away with that feeling after several group interviews with VASJ students. I talked to athletes and band members, those interested in philosophy and culinary trends, girls and boys, black kids and white, some with braces and some without. And my experience could be summed up thusly: the things I thought they would be interested in they were not, and the things I thought they could care less about they did.

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School Students

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School Students – Photo Bob Perkoski

I asked about race. My interviews happened soon after the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and I was wondering if racial tensions ever came into play at school. They looked at me like I was some old guy who they should pat on the head and smile at. “I guess maybe you notice race in the first couple of weeks when you are a freshman,” Alison Sukys, a senior white girl and student council president says with a laugh. “But why would you notice it after that?”

And while many think that high-school students find comfort in being with like-minded kids, these students didn’t. Cliques seem to have gone the way of Myspace. Vaughn Johnson, an African-American senior who lives in Euclid near where Misny grew up, says most of his friends from grade school are at public high schools and at schools with predominantly African-American enrollment: “I want to be in a school that has all types of kids,” he says. “I like how my friends are white and black and come from the inner city and the suburbs and are girls and boys.”

“That’s how the real world is, isn’t it?” Johnson asks.

Chelsea Kline, an African-American female senior, went to Montessori schools before she entered ninth grade, and chose to go to VASJ instead of the local Montessori high school because it was “more traditional and not as exclusive as Montessori is.” Taylor Sawicki, a white senior girl from Mentor, wanted to “be somewhere different, and not in the boring suburbs where everything is the same.”

Thomas Gallucci's ('03 alumnus) English class at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School

Thomas Gallucci’s (’03 alumnus) English class at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School – Photo Bob Perkoski

But Vincent Mauceri, a white sophomore from Mentor, said I sounded a bit like his “fake people” friends from grade school who wondered what it would be like going to school with inner-city black kids. “Don’t be surprised by the black kids doing this or that, they told me,” Mauceri says, with a big smile. “I find that funny now. They don’t even know black kids, and they have some idea about what they are like. But I don’t even notice any more. These are just my friends at school.”

And all of them surprised me by saying that religion and spirituality were very important to them, even though about half of the school is not Catholic. “There is a sense of community that comes from being here, and a part of that is that we think about God and religion and stuff,” Kline says. “My friends at Cleveland Heights High School don’t have that sense of unity. A lot of that unity comes from a lot being expected of us.”

It was interesting that the students all said that part of the reason they came to VASJ was because of the 50-50 black/white ratio. That type of balanced mix is quite rare these days, in both private and public schools. According to the Ohio Department of Education, only seven of the 611 school districts in the state have an African-American population that is between 40 and 60 percent. Two of those are in the Cleveland area: Shaker Heights and Garfield Heights.

I found out later that some of the students had become a bit worried after I had interviewed them, because I had asked them if the possibility of VASJ closing had influenced them when they made the decision on what high school to attend. The students pretty much shrugged their shoulders and said that they hadn’t thought about that, but later they asked around about whether VASJ was at risk of closing down.

“I heard from some of the teachers that the kids you interviewed had come up to them and were asking if the school was closing,” Osborne told me later. “They were worried that their brothers and sisters and other family members might not be able to come here.”

They obviously hadn’t seen a T-shirt that was making the rounds among VASJ alums a few years ago: “VASJ: 20 years and Still Closing.”

xxx

Ohio spends about $130 million a year on private school vouchers, with about $25 million coming to Cleveland, and there is a no doubt that VASJ students and the school benefit from the plan. High school students who come from families that have income that is less than 200 percent of the poverty level can get a $5,000 voucher for each high school student in the family per year. The program is extremely complicated, with many exceptions, but suffice to say, if one comes from a family in the City of Cleveland and attends a private school located within the City of Cleveland, the voucher is easier to get.

And with VASJ tuition at $8,450, cutting that down to $3,450 with a shot at additional financial aid from the school makes private school affordable in some respects. Osborne wouldn’t go into the specifics of how many students come in with the $5,000 voucher, but did say that 85 percent get some financial aid. “But everyone pays something,” he says, noting that a financial investment from the family makes for a more engaged student and buying into the sense of community.

While at the recent VASJ-Euclid football game (won by Euclid, 23-13), I was sitting next to a man named Brian, whose son is in this year’s big VASJ freshman class. Brian (who didn’t want his last name used) works in marketing at a local company, and barely qualifies under the 200 percent for a family of six poverty level ($64,000 annual earnings). He moved to Cleveland from the suburbs to more easily qualify.

“We did move to Cleveland for a number of reasons,” he says. “One was to make it easier for transportation to school, and the other was for the voucher, because we have three more kids coming through and we would like them all to go to VASJ. So first was we wanted to send our son to a good school, but we also wanted to make it affordable.”

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School

Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School – Photo Bob Perkoki

And in the world of marketing, VASJ had narrowed its consumer base. While other Catholic high schools in the area, including St. Ignatius, Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin or Lake Catholic, like to brag that their students come from an eight-county area, VASJ has concentrated its recruiting efforts on the east side of Cleveland and the inner-ring suburbs in the eastern part of Cuyahoga County.

“We have students from all over,” Osborne says, “but we do concentrate on students close to our school as our main market. First, there is a need in this part of the city that we see as part of our mission. But we also know that students in the inner city want good choices for school, and we know that we can be successful in providing that education.”

If you look at the costs, VASJ comes in on the low end in the Cleveland-area private school marketplace. St Ignatius and St. Edward are both around $14,000 per year, while Gilmour Academy and University School are in the $25-30,000 range. Only Cleveland Central Catholic in Slavic Village ($7,790) is lower than VASJ ($8,450).

“I’m real proud and happy that my alma mater didn’t move out of the city,” Clark Kellogg says. “But I think one of the reasons we are doing so well now is that we have a renewed sense of identity, and that identity has always been a part of the east side of Cleveland. Part of it is the leadership changing some of the ways we approached our role in the community, and some of it was just getting used to changes over time.”

“But we have more than 20,000 alumni from the two combined schools, and what we are seeing is that when that many people get engaged in a cause, a lot of great things can happen.”

xxx

Great things have not happened at other Catholic high schools in the Midwest. In 2012, St. Scholastica Academy, a girls school that had occupied the same building in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood (similar in many ways to Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood) since 1906, was closed, to the dismay of many on Chicago’s north side. In Detroit, Holy Redeemer High School closed in 2005 after being in operation for 123 years. Detroit’s East Catholic High School (formerly St. Anthony’s), also met the wrecking ball recently.

In the Cleveland area, the coed St. Peter Chanel High School in Bedford closed last year, and all-girls Regina High School in South Euclid closed in 2010.

U. S. Catholic school enrollment reached its peak during the early 1960s, when there were more than 5.2 million students in almost 13,000 schools across the nation. But over time, the enrollment has dropped and the Midwest – with its strong numbers of Catholic immigrants – has taken the biggest hit nationally.

According to the National Catholic Education Association and Georgetown University, there were about 1 million students in Catholic high schools in 1970, and about 582,000 today. But since 2003, almost one-third of the nation’s number of secondary and elementary Catholic schools that have closed (376) have been in the Midwest. About one-fourth of the decline of students nationally in all Catholic schools have been from the Midwest.

This has all happened while the number of people who call themselves Catholic has risen in the United States from 50 million in 1970 to 75 million today.

Rich Osborne door 16

Richard Osborne at age 16 and 60 at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School – current photo by ’61 alumnus Tim Ryan

Osborne, 63, is aware of those trends, as it is in his nature to be so. He worked in journalism since his first job as a copy clerk at The Cincinnati Inquirer in 1971 until taking over as VASJ president three years ago.  Over the years he served as managing editor at Cleveland Magazine, and editor of the The (Lorain) Journal and Industry Week magazine. A two-term past president of the Press Club of Cleveland, he was inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame in 2007.

So what caused a guy with ink in his veins to give it up in the twilight of his career to walk in the hallways with teenagers and beg people for money? Or perhaps a better question is: why would a high school that was nearer to death than many would admit hire a journalist to run things?

“I was asking those questions myself when I decided to apply for the job,” he says. He had been appointed as president of the school’s board of directors in 2009, and in 2011, the VASJ president stepped down. Osborne took stock of his life, asked his high school sweetheart for advice, and decided to apply for the job.

“It wasn’t that I was dissatisfied with my work, but there were days when you come into work and you don’t look forward to it,” he says. “But I gave it a lot of thought, and decided that this might be my last chance in life to make a difference. And it’s funny, because every day I am excited going to work. Because every day I see those kids, and unlike what everyone thinks, kids don’t change. They are exciting and they are wide-eyed and I learn something from them every day.”

And he found that his skills as a journalist can be applied in his new career. As a reporter, he says, he had to assess things quickly and get people to trust him and talk to him instantly. And as a publisher, he had to sell the idea to advertisers that there would be a future benefit for them to advertise that might not be plainly obvious at the time.

[blocktext align=”left”]“I used to be like them. We all used to be like them.”[/blocktext] It was clear he really enjoys his new job when I went to the football game against Euclid High School with him a few weeks ago and sat next to him for a quarter. He pointed out two young girls sitting about ten rows in front of us; they had paint on their faces and were standing and cheering enthusiastically. “I saw them at freshman orientation two weeks ago, and they were real quiet and shy like all freshman are. Now look at them. They look like they have been here forever.”

“I used to be like them,” Osborne says with a big smile. “We all used to be like them.”

Daniel J. McGraw is Senior Writer at Belt.
Cover photo by: Daniel J. McGraw

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36 Comments

  1. Matt Marshall September 24, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Glad you included vouchers in this article, Daniel. While the 50/50 black-white split is great, it’s still troubling that VASJ gets to selectively accept and reject students while receiving taxpayer money. It’s all well and good for Osborne to “forget” the idea of school as a place for parents “to drop of [their] problems,” but that’s not a luxury his colleagues at public schools have. So public schools keep the problems while losing money to private schools that cherry-pick their way to success. And, of course, there’s the added problem of taxpayer money being used to fund religious education.

    • Tony September 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

      Matt, somehow you think voucher money is the governements money and belongs to public schools, it’s the people’s money. Private school parents pay taxes too and they shouldn’t be forced to either send their children to substandard schools or move out of a city or neighborhood that they love. The only reason there is any semblence of middle class left in the city of Cleveland and inner ring suburbs is because of Vouchers and Ed Choice. And many of the students at VASJ are not on public education assistance. Everyone goes there because they love the school and quality of education.

      • Matt Marshall September 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

        Of course voucher money is government money. It comes from money the government collects to provide education for all (i.e., public education). It’s the people’s money in as much as the government is ours. But vouchers only serve to undermine the idea of quality education for all by taking funds away from public schools that desperately need them and funneling them to private, mostly religious schools. And, as your comment seems to acknowledge, vouchers are commonly used by families that are already sending their kids to private schools, in which case the vouchers serve only as middle-class rebates not as “educational choice” opportunities for the poorest among us. But even placing aside this affront to the ideas of equitable public education and separation of church and state, there is no evidence that vouchers do anything to improve academic outcomes. They are simply a way to take public money — the people’s money — and give it to private interests.

        • Patrick September 25, 2014 at 10:57 am

          What is the data to show that education in Cleveland public schools is worse now than when before the voucher program went into effect?

        • Kaja September 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm

          Dear Mr. Marshall,
          You make a very good argument about a lack of funding being put towards Cleveland public schools. I was born and raised in East Cleveland, my father was a Cleveland cop. My father was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and had to retire at an early age from the Cleveland police department. As a young broken family living in East Cleveland and slowly falling below the poverty line, my brothers and I were terrified we would be taken out of our school and put into the Cleveland public school system, which unfortunately as young white children, we heard nothing good about. My family scavenged for resources and worked for academic scholarships to allow us to go to Holy Cross elementary school and finally VASJ. I was an honor student, varsity volleyball player and most importantly a school ambassador at VASJ. The school ambassadors are directly involved with students and staff. It’s our job to be the best representation of our school… now getting back to the voucher program. Vouchers don’t solve the problem Cleveland has with its public school systems. I truly wish there were more options in the inner city, but the only way we can begin to see a change is by investing in students who can later invest in our city. These vouchers don’t always benefit young people. A lot of poverty stricken children take education and opportunities for granted, because lets face it, life in Cleveland can be seem pretty bleak and miserable. However, there are kids like myself who want to be part of something bigger than themselves. There are kids who want to make a difference and rise above what society has “fated” for them. VASJ is a place where you can break boundaries and become something great with a diverse family and network of people surrounding you. The core values are instilled in you from day one: Faith, Family and Future. VASJ is selective in its enrollment, not based on race, funds, where your from, or who you know, the selection process is based on your willingness to learn. As an ambassador for the school I got to help run open-houses and work one-on-one with potential and current students. It was unfortunate when I saw kids coming in from my neighborhood on vouchers and they act like thugs. They don’t respect the teachers, they don’t respect the students and it is demoralizing for all the other students. VASJ’s rejection policy is to avoid letting these people ruin the growth for the other students. It acts as a message for our community that if you invest in yourself and your education, the Viking community will invest you. The rejected students are forced to see the harsh reality of what ignoring academics and practicing bad behavior can do to your chances of success. To say we reject is harsh, yes the school has said no to your enrollment, but I have seen students who have been rejected turn their lives around and come back because they want to be part of the community. Vouchers are not the solution to the education problems in Cleveland, but from my experience it is helping kids come to VASJ and turn their lives around. I have graduated with people who had vouchers and many of them are great people who outside of college want to invest in our city and our community. VASJ is not taking public money for private interests. The teachers and staff members don’t work for a fat check. They work for us and to make our school a better place for us to succeed. They are taking public money for PUBLIC interests. The issue Matt is you need to start seeing the kids with vouchers as your own personal investment for your city and your community, because VASJ is making leaders and strong people to save our city.

          • Tony September 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm

            Beautifully written Kaja and so proud that you are a Viking!

        • Tony September 25, 2014 at 3:08 pm

          Matt, if a child that is a resident in a public school system does not attend that school system, they aren’t “taking” money from that school system, that school system now has one less child to educate and they can adjust their buildings and costs appropriately (i.e. less teachers, less buildings, less custodians, less administrators). It really is a simple concept unless that public school system and their employees are in the business of making money off of each kid that attends their school as they have been for years. The $5500 voucher per student is far less than the $16,000 per student that Cleveland Public Schools and Ed Choice Public schools has been blowing to create a society of illiterates. Cleveland Public Schools and other school districts have been making money off of the backs of private school and home schooled parents for years by taking our $16,000 per student tax money, padding their collective wallets, and putting out an inferior product. Shame on all of them.

          In regards to your statement that “there is no evidence that vouchers do anything to improve academic outcomes”, we have nothing to prove to you or anyone else. I live in Cleveland and my children would not attend a Cleveland Public School under any circumstances. I would move out of the city before that happened and take my income tax and real estate taxes with me, and where would that leave your precious dysfunctional public school system and the tax base of the city?

          In regards to your statement that “this affront to the ideas of equitable public education and separation of church and state”, excuse me mister lawyer and constitutional scholar but that statement has already been refuted by the highest court in the land so you are just going to have to deal with it. Vouchers and parental choice are constitutional.

          • Former Tiger October 4, 2014 at 4:36 pm

            If VASJ had to take every kid that walked in the door, including a large percentage of students with severe special needs and those from legitimately broken homes, it would be “dysfunctional,” too, producing thousands of “illiterates.” You’re making the common mistake of confusing parenting failures with school system failures. It’s a disgusting argument being used to make sure that your dime-a-dozen Catholic institution can remain open.

      • Former Tiger October 4, 2014 at 4:27 pm

        Much of what you attribute to VASJ as being “quality” academics is really just the inherent advantages that it has in hand-picking its students and thus maintaining a decent learning environment. If some public schools are “substandard,” it’s because they cannot do many of the things that VASJ can. Personally, I believe that if any school is going to take public money, it should play by the same rules as public schools. And if you think that those rules are too restrictive, either work to get them changed or don’t take the money. Schools like Brush and Cleveland Heights offer superior programs and academics on the high end than VASJ, but because neither can cherry-pick the students that enroll, each has overall inferior outcomes than VASJ.

        • Practice Man October 6, 2014 at 9:27 am

          Former Tiger:

          You have a point. However, you’re unwilling to see the larger picture. If I’m interested in a quality education and a safe, motivated, focused learning environment, I may find that some public school systems (especially the urban ones), are unwilling to give me what I want. Public schools have choices to make, some of them difficult. For a long time, Cleveland seemed uninterested in serving the well-bevaved and the smart (see some changes recently). When my parents were young, there was a school on the east-side called Thomas Edison which was where disruptive kids were sent…the rest got the good focus and attention and were educated.

          Some public schools lose “users” because they aren’t giving them the product that they want. The system is geared to serving someone other than their kid. Chew on that.

          • Former Tiger October 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm

            I see the larger picture just fine, thank you. We as a society need to address the real issues behind why many urban schools “fail.” Rather than creating a system that allows the best and brightest to take public money to private and charter schools with missions that are perhaps not in the public’s best interest, we should free up urban public schools to be able to do some of the things that allow these other types of schools to create positive learning environments.

            In other words, rather than creaming the top 15% and leaving behind everyone else, the bottom 15% (focusing primarily on behavioral issues) should be removed from the equation to create a better overall environment. And I’ll stand by what I stated earlier in that if VASJ had to take everyone that walked in the door from their surrounding neighborhood, the school would appear to be a failure, even if school leaders did everything else the same. If VASJ and others like it are so great, they should be able to educate in massive quantities the most at-risk students, right? Doubtful.

    • Willie October 1, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      My son attended a suburban public school system and it was literally ruining his life. He qualified for a voucher not because of my income but because of consistently poor performance of his middle school. I am a working college graduate who knows what my son needs educationally to have a chance at success.. The public school provided neither the instruction or environment to make that happen.
      It was not because they did not have the resources. It was because they were ineffective and inefficient. They were unresponsive to my request for assistance my son needed. They provided neither the instruction or environment he needed. The public system still receives my tax dollars while I pay a significant portion of his tuition at VASJ (and it is worth every penny). Public dollars have always been used to pay private business for goods and services. Tax dollars are used to pay companies that produce military weaponry, bailouts, subsidies and the list goes on.
      At VASJ they understand their students are their customers. The public schools he attended did not get that and because they did not offer their customer a good product they lost him to an entity that offered a better product. I like the concept of a faith based education. We are not Catholic but religion is a big part of our life and they teach him about Catholicism without forcing it on him.
      I fully believe. getting my son out of the public school system he attended and into VASJ literally saved his life. I have talked with Mr. Osborne extensively and his actions at VASJ back up all the words he said in this article. This is an excellent article and some public schools could benefit from reading if they are willing to take a different approach to education.

      • Former Tiger October 4, 2014 at 4:39 pm

        Sounds like you live in a community with a lot of parents who aren’t doing their job very well and that has infected the schools. However if VASJ had to take all of these students, odds are good that it, too, would have a poor learning environment. You imply that education is a business and that schools are competing, but how can public schools compete for dollars with schools that are playing by a different set of rules? Give public schools a chance to do some of the things that private schools can do, and watch how quickly things improve.

        • Julie November 8, 2014 at 3:13 am

          The thing I don’t like about your comment Former Tiger is that you keep blaming the parents for the kids. Not every kid is just a behavior problem because of the upbringing. There are real medical issues out there that can cause a child not to do well in the school environment. My son has medical issues and the Mentor Schools try to deal with them and come up with a plan (IEP) however, that is just paperwork. None of the “plans” are ever implemented and that is because the school has far too high of a student to teacher ratio and the children with learning disabilities that need extra help are just not afforded what they need in the public school. Unfortunately, I just don’t think it would happen at a private school either and certainly not at VASJ considering that a child with low grades would likely be turned away from that school and does not have the facilities to deal with a learning disabled child. So, maybe the dollars that are going to the private schools for the “smart” kids would be better off spent in the public schools on programs or extra faculty that could better deal with the students with real medical issues and not just getting bad grades and acting badly because of your so called “parent’s that aren’t doing their job very well” bull.

          • Former Tiger April 5, 2015 at 2:33 pm

            That’s a fair comment, Julie. I guess my point is that schools like VASJ aren’t taking in large quantities kids with ANY of those challenges, whether it be derelict parents, special needs, or parents that do care but just don’t have money for lots of extra, while public schools take all comers and do their best despite being criticized by folks who ignore the differences in inputs. But I think we agree that public money would be better spent than to prop up and heap unearned praise on exclusionary institutions like VASJ.

        • Willie Brown December 23, 2014 at 10:02 am

          It is interesting that you choose to overlook the substance of my comments and draw a conclusion about parenting in my community. Public school have more dollars to work with and are not efficient or effective. Public schools have the chance to do what private schools do and choose not to. I mentioned in my earlier comments how the public school teachers refused to do the things I suggested they needed to do for my son. They thought they knew best.
          When my son went to the private school low and behold they were doing the things I had suggested. Now I will draw a conclusion from your comments. You are probably or have been a public school teacher or administrator. You are definitely a public school apologist. Stop making excuses for public schools. They have made excuses for decades, “we don’t have the funding”, “parents aren’t doing their job’. I for one have had enough of excuses. The public schools responsibility is to educate our children. If the teachers and administrators are not capable of doing it they should quit and find something else to do.
          “Excuses are the tools of the incompetent. Those who specialize in using them seldom amount to more than mounds of mere nothingness to be blown aimlessly across the sands of time.” There is no more time for excuses. Public schools need to get it right.

          • Former Tiger April 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

            School “quality” is reflective of inputs which, in the case of public schools, are reflective of the surrounding community. These are not excuses. It’s incredibly simplistic to imply that private schools do more with less and that’s that. You completely ignore other factors, particularly the elephant in the room, the costs and outcomes of special needs students, a demographic that Catholic schools like VASJ largely don’t even both trying to educate.

            Look, it’s fine to be proud of what these schools offer. I am an alumnus of one Cleveland’s all-boys schools and I would not be where am I today without my experiences there. That said, it’s ridiculous to pretend that these schools offer some magical formula to success that public schools can emulate to turn things around. It’s an apples to oranges comparison.

  2. Vaughn Johnson September 24, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    What a fantastic story! The main reason that we allowed our son to attend Villa Angela St. Joseph was because of the integration of race, social equalities and how diverse it is. We’re very proud to be part of this wonderful institution. Go Vikings!

    • Dan McGraw September 25, 2014 at 10:10 am

      Thanks for your comment, Vaughn. I very much enjoyed meeting and speaking with your son.

  3. Joe Koss September 24, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    What a great article! I’m a graduate from St. Joe and so thankful to my parents for making personal sacrifices in their life just so I could attend school at this fine school. Keep up the great work, your alumni really appreciate what you are doing.

  4. sue September 24, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    THANK YOU

  5. Tony September 24, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    Thank you Dan, great article about our school. Very well done and on point with almost all info, though I must say, while the neighborhood around VASJ has changed since the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, it is still solid and I have lived there for the last 50 years. Getting back to the school though, I couldn’t be prouder of our school or community for the transformation and turnaround that has happened. And as a VASJ alum, with children that went to VASJ that graduated recently, I can tell you in all honesty that VASJ offers an exceptional educational experience and inside the Viking Village, we truly are a family. Once a Viking………Always a Viking! Hail the Red and Blue!

  6. Laura Putre September 25, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Great story, Dan!

  7. Amy September 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    This was great!! Thanks Danny

  8. Dana Heil September 25, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    In this day and age when it’s so easy to focus on what’s wrong, I’d like to thank you for noticing what is going right at VASJ. To be honest, I didn’t have to read about it since I have the opportunity to experience it on a regular basis. My husband was a 1972 graduate of St. Joseph High School and we sacrificed to send our three children to VASJ. I am honored to volunteer at the school and truly enjoy watching all of the positive changes. The school not only provides a great education for the students that attend, but it is also a strong anchor in the Euclid/Collinwood neighborhood. The VASJ students give a wonderful example to the adults in the neighborhood about the beauty of diversity, how much we can to learn from eachother and how much richer we are when we can appreciate our differences. Congratulations to Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School. Keep up the good work!

  9. Sam Ciocco September 25, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    For me, it was love at first sight with St. Joe’s, from the moment in 1955 when I first saw the school when taking the entrance exam. Values learned there have served me well all these years, I am glad VASJ has survived all these years so that more generations can have the experience I had. I still attend football and basketball games. and it makes me feel good that the traditions continue.

  10. Jonathan Rutherford September 25, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    As a proud, AFRICAN AMERICAN, VIKING ALUMNI, class of 1989 —–Three Generations Strong!!!
    This is where we were each taught social versatility and to pursue academic excellence. All three of us were provided a high quality education which well prepared us for college and life as a whole. It is in this fine school, we each learned how to walk into a room and find common ground with anyone from any walk of life.
    VAJS and has been a major contributing factor to my personal growth and professional success.

    Race was not an issue or barrier then or now!!

    The only color I see is GREEN!
    THANK YOU..THANK YOU ….THANK YOU!

    Great article!

  11. Practice Man September 26, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Great article and congrats to VASJ for heir improved climate and their decision to up the qulaity.

    Here’s the splash of cold water. VASJ is essntially a neighborhood school and the neighborhood has issues…for them. In a few years, there may be only one (or perhaps 2) Catholic elementary school within several miles of the school (currently 3). I know that Catholic high schools draw from public middles as well, but this is not a good trend.

    In order to combat this, VASJ needs their alum base (living significantly in Lake and Geauga County) to contribute…THEIR CHILDREN. This from a group of people historically lukewarm in showin’ the love to the old alma mater.

    • John Moore September 26, 2014 at 11:36 am

      Had 4 kids graduate from 2000 on . All graduated from college and are game fully employed and living lives I am proud of. I couldn’t agree with Tim Misny more, VASJ is educating kids just like we were at St. Joe’s and VA in mid-twentieth century.

      John Moore (St Joe’s 63)

      • Julie November 8, 2014 at 3:23 am

        First, it’s not game fully employed, it is gainfully employed and that’s great. However, the big hero, Tim Misney has never even worked on a Trial in a Courtroom. While he may be a good lawyer and certainly a good spokesman for his practice, from what I hear, he doesn’t even defend his clients in Trial, but only a paperwork man. Just sayin

  12. MAUCERI September 26, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    A fellow alumnus told me in 2008 that “this school (VASJ) is done”. His boys are at South High in Willoughby while mine are on the shores of Lake Erie. To those alumni in western Lake County, open up your minds to the opportunities at our school. The perspective or life scape that you get at 185th and LSB is a part of the education that LC nor NDCL cannot match. This administration has done a marvelous job in creating this environment.

    ST. JOE 4-LIFE

    • Julie November 8, 2014 at 3:26 am

      I’m in Lake County and my son attends Mentor High and one thing I can surely see VASJ offering is a positive environment and surely more personal attention from the teachers due to the smaller class sizes. I think that is very important, unfortunately, not likely to see that in Mentor any time soon.

  13. Sue Smith November 18, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I have twin daughters at VASJ that have come up through St. Felicitas. Both in National Honor Society. Both taking AP classes. Both Student Ambassadors. Both Peer Tutors and Peer Ministers. Both volunteer at the Hospice of the Western Reserve. One of them actually transferred from Beaumont after her freshman year for the opportunity to attend VASJ. One of them is the North Coast League & Medina District Volleyball player of the year. I also have two others at Holy Cross. As a single mom, I sacrifice everything for me for the opportunities they have been presented at this beautiful establishment. As a Euclid grad, it kills me to say go Vikes, but I wouldn’t change one bit of it. Everyone jokes that my 6th & 7th graders are future Vikings and I tell then that they are right!

  14. Michelle August 24, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    As an alum of the first graduating class of VASJ, let me say it was not all roses as portrayed here. We all (boys or girls) chose to go to a single sex school for HS, and got told end of sophomore year that choice was being taken away from us out senior year. We all had plenty of other coed schools we could have attended (Lake Catholic would have been closer for me), but that’s not what we wanted. And while I hate to disagree with a nun, I don’t know where Sister Gross got her idea that “a big part of the acceptance is the fact that the school has “worked hard to make the VA women a big part of the basis for the new school’s history.” My senior year of high school I lost almost everything from my first three years. It was completely skewed towards St. Joe’s. VA girls lost their building, our mascot, our school colors. The only thing we got to keep was 2/3 of our name. Why were things not done more fairly? How about new colors, mascots, etc.? Instead we had St. Joe’s crammed down our throats. That was unfair. New school, new slate. I felt so shoved into “be a Viking” that it was like the much longer history of VA and the girls experiences were ignored. It sure made me not want to support the school after graduation. I’m not surprised enrollment went down. I don’t want to see it fail, but the horrible way it was merged has left me with no love or pride for that place. I’ll always be a VA girl.

    • FormerTiger October 24, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      That’s because St. Joseph’s High School failed so badly as an academic institution that its only option was to merge or risk closing in a few short years. SJ decided to merge, but it was never meant to be between two equals, just a means for keeping the school alive.

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