North vs. Kensington

In this week's River­ward Rant, Joe Quigley dis­cusses the dif­fer­ences between North Cath­ol­ic High School and the Kens­ing­ton Culin­ary Arts High School.

As a gradu­ate of North Cath­ol­ic High School and a former em­ploy­ee at the Kens­ing­ton Culin­ary Arts High School, I can tell you one thing about pub­lic schools in Philly: You can’t learn al­gebra when you’re chuck­ing the math book at your teach­er.

Ser­i­ously, for a guy like me com­ing from North — where the le­gendary as­sist­ant prin­cip­al, Big Ernie Koschineg, would wreck you if you even looked at the math book the wrong way — the baseline for dis­cip­line in the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia is enough to make my head spin.

On a daily basis in Kens­ing­ton, I was able to watch good kids — the vast ma­jor­ity of stu­dents, for sure — have their edu­ca­tion in­ter­rup­ted by gang mem­bers, drug deal­ers and oth­er young crim­in­als.

I mean that lit­er­ally.

There were more than a few stu­dents con­victed of crimes and ordered to fin­ish high school in lieu of jail time.

Hip-hop crit­ics say vi­ol­ent rap lyr­ics neg­at­ively in­flu­ence urb­an youth. Maybe that’s true, but that in­flu­ence is noth­ing com­pared to sit­ting next to a couple of con­victed dope ped­dlers in the cafet­er­ia.

Don’t get me wrong, I know a few North grads who went on to be crim­in­als. There could have been more if not for the to­tal­it­ari­an dic­tat­or­ship of Big Ernie and Fath­er Nich­olas Waseline.

Sadly, North Cath­ol­ic no longer ex­ists, hav­ing been closed last year by the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia be­cause of its on­go­ing budget blues. But you could walk in­to North Cath­ol­ic as a trash-talk­ing kid from the corner and walk out as a reas­on­ably re­spons­ible adult. Why? Be­cause North taught you con­sequences.

I know this per­son­ally, since I was a guy who spent a fair amount of time in JUG (Justice Un­der God, or de­ten­tion, for the un­ini­ti­ated).

That’s not to say the staff at Kens­ing­ton Culin­ary doesn’t try to teach dis­cip­line.

They do.

Dur­ing my time there I worked with school po­lice of­ficer Ry­an Smith. He’s a ded­ic­ated dude, in stark con­trast with the knuckle­headed school po­lice high­lighted in the Phil­adelphia In­quirer a few months ago, and he’s prob­ably the Kens­ing­ton High School equi­val­ent of Ernie Koschineg. Smith en­forced even the most an­noy­ing rules, sprint­ing back and forth while con­fis­cat­ing hood­ies and cell phones, not to men­tion the not-at-all-in­fre­quent mo­ments when Smith was forced to phys­ic­ally en­gage the bright-eyed, eager-to-learn so­ciopaths roam­ing the school.

Des­pite this, Smith has a way of en­ga­ging the kids on a per­son­al level.

He’s from North Philly, home to a siz­able chunk of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, and he un­der­stands where a lot of these kids are com­ing from. I’d even go as far as to say he serves as something of a role mod­el, and in do­ing so is forced to work hard.

But even with his ex­haust­ing ef­fort, and the ef­forts of the school’s dean and prin­cip­al — both great guys — the level of dis­cip­line in Kens­ing­ton can nev­er match that of North.

But the prob­lem doesn’t start with the staff at Kens­ing­ton Culin­ary or its trouble­mak­ing stu­dents. 

It’s the sys­tem.

If I’m a Philly pub­lic-school stu­dent and I threaten a staff mem­ber, I’ll prob­ably get a slap on the wrist.

I know this be­cause, as a staff mem­ber, I’ve been threatened. In fact, I was threatened on a reg­u­lar basis, just like any oth­er staff mem­ber, and even­tu­ally you get tired of re­port­ing it to your over­worked high­er-ups.

The sys­tem — by design, not ne­ces­sity — doesn’t have the means to dis­cip­line stu­dents for such minor in­frac­tions as curs­ing in a teach­er’s face or threat­en­ing their well-be­ing.

Those are es­sen­tially minor in­frac­tions in the pub­lic school sys­tem, even though rep­res­ent­at­ives of the sys­tem will nev­er ad­mit it.

Curs­ing out a teach­er or threat­en­ing the main­ten­ance work­er might earn you a day of de­ten­tion (that is, if you de­cide to go), or maybe a short sus­pen­sion.

But that activ­ity could get you kicked out of North.

In the pub­lic school sys­tem, if you get kicked out you’ll be in an­oth­er school shortly after. Like our city’s re­volving-door pris­on sys­tem, ex­cept with 13-year-olds.

Oh, and when the prin­cip­al kicks a stu­dent out and sends him to an­oth­er school, he has to take an­oth­er troubled stu­dent in re­turn.

In this sys­tem, prin­cipals ac­tu­ally trade prob­lem kids.

In the end, you really can’t com­pare a Philly pub­lic school to North Cath­ol­ic, or to any oth­er private or charter school.

Un­less there is a fun­da­ment­al change in the way dis­cip­line is handed out in the pub­lic sys­tem, the stu­dents there, no mat­ter how hard they work, may still have to sit next to a crim­in­al or a so­ciopath after the bell rings. ••

River­ward Rants re­flects the opin­ions of Joe Quigley, a Fishtown res­id­ent, area nat­ive and writer of the Web site PhillyNeigh­, where he makes cyn­ic­al (and un­censored) com­ments about life in the river wards while shame­lessly ped­dling his nov­el, “Hol­d­out.” He can be reached at

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