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The Commercial Appeal
May 25, 2005

East High helper asks for time to turn things around
The Commercial Appeal
By Lela Garlington
May 25, 2005

Six months ago, commodities trader Charles D. McVean announced a plan to raise $3 million to help his alma mater, East High.mcvean-5-25-05.jpg (42684 bytes)

Now, McVean says he's decided to delay asking others for money until proving the model devised by him and his group works.

My philosophy is there will be mistakes made getting it started," said McVean, who graduated in 1961. "We want to make the mistakes with our own money. Once we believe we have established systems and protocol, we will scale up our operation and begin to use other people's money. This semester we paid the price. This fall marks the real kickoff."

McVean, 62, announced in November that he was forming a group of local business leaders, the Greater East High Foundation, to help make improvements at the embattled school. Those improvements have begun.

McVean estimates he spent about $200,000 this semester, wiring the library for 20 computers, hiring 47 students as tutors at $10 an hour, paying for 200 honor roll students to see the Grizzlies play, paying for a trip to Chicago to see how one school there works and other expenses.

Slowly but surely, he hopes the plan will take root and lead to improvements that will justify seeking other financial support.

For the past decade or so, test scores at East have been on a downward spiral. Unless scores improve, the grades 7-12 school is in danger of being taken over by the state.

This fall, East will greet its seventh principal in 10 years.

"There's no overnight miracles under anybody's watch," McVean said.

However, he wants to see if intense extra help at a critical time can make the difference.

"What we want to do is focus on the seventh and eighth grades," he said. "Our goal is to get these kids academically ready for high school. We're going to bring a lot more teaching power to the process."

Organizers plan to use one of the upstairs wings at East High to essentially create a school within a school, with two security guards.

One of the daily class periods will focus on enrichment, re-enforcement and re-teaching any items the children may have missed in elementary school. At the end of the school day four days a week, older students and adult tutors will work with the students who stay after school on English, math and science for another hour. Each Friday, they will have speakers, activities and other opportunities to learn.

McVean is modeling his concept on a former parochial school in Chicago, Providence-St. Mel School.

"We have a working relationship with the school directors," he said. "They will be our mentors."

The school is now a successful independent K-12 college prep school.

"Some kids need remediation. Some need reinforcement. Others just need to be taught," said Wade Pepper, one of the adult mentors and East's biology teacher.

Pepper hopes the added tutoring, and extra help, helps.

"It has to work if it's going to turn this school around," Pepper said.

With the new fall schedule, Pepper added, "We want to rescue as many kids as we can in the junior high area."


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