Tuesday, September 05, 2000

Alumni rally to assist

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The eight-story Tudor tower at Hughes High School is worth saving, say alumni.

        “Hughes was built at great cost and great pride. I still see that, but some of it has slipped away,” said 1956 graduate Charles Whitehead.

        The president of the Ashland Inc. Foundation, with a nod to successful alumni campaigns at other Cincinnati Public Schools and private efforts to help public schools across the country, is working with a small group of alumni to put fund-raising muscle behind Hughes.

        “This was a testimony to what the city thought about education,” Mr. Whitehead said of the tower which rises over the bustle created by the University of Cincinnati across the street and blocks of storefronts nearby.

        “You can't have a great city without great schools,” he said.

        With the blessing of the Board of Education, the three men and two women plan to figure out what teachers and students need and raise the money to deliver it.

        A recent tour of the school sparked memories for Mr. Whitehead. He decided right then to devote energy and time to renewing his alma mater.

        With public schools across the nation in need, alumni groups and private foundations have become essential pieces of a school's financial portfolio.


        • The foundation at Walnut Hills High School started a $2 million endowment and in 1999 celebrated the opening of privately financed $10 million 59,000-square-foot arts and science center.

        • Withrow parents and alumni raised $250,000 to restore the footbridge and clock tower at the Hyde Park school in 1998. The group also raised $500,000 for an activity center.

        Benefits go beyond straight dollar-for-dollar donations.

        The money can be leveraged for federal no-interest loans. Dubbed QZAB, or Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, these funds can be used for school renovation projects when a private group commits 10 percent of the project's cost.

        That saves taxpayers millions of dollars while allowing cash-strapped districts to complete needed building projects.

        In Cincinnati, officials will use the $500,000 raised by the Withrow alumni to complete $5 million in renovations.

        And $26 million pledged by the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center to build a $52 million arts campus will help the district qualify for loans to work on other buildings.

        In a school system where buildings need more than $700 million in work — $40 million at Hughes alone — the efforts of alumni and community members are key to survival.

        Juanita Mills, a 1956 Hughes graduate who runs her own consulting firm, joined the Hughes group to preserve the school system, preserve the buildings and “honor the experiences we've had.”

        Member Jerry Pryor, a 1970 graduate and collections analyst for S.T. Publications, said he wants to be sure students get the same opportunities he did.

        He left Walnut Hills with failing math grades, he said, and comments from teachers that he could not write. At Hughes, Mr. Pryor published his writing, was a top math student and played on the football team.

        Hughes is now a center for six programs: the Cincinnati Academy of Mathematics and Science, communications professions, teaching professions, health professions, zoo academy and a Paideia high school.

        Hughes' needs include: air-conditioning and technology upgrades, new windows, more parking, and millions in repairs from water damage and years of neglect.

        To help the Hughes High School alumni group, contact teacher Jamie Bierne at 559-3000.



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