Washington High School Making Its Way Out of Troubled Times

Booker T. Washington High School. 6000 College Parkway, Pensacola, FL. 32504-7997Phone (850) 475-5257 � Fax (850) 494-7297

Located across the street from Sam’s Club and less than a mile from Cordova Mall, Washington High School is the best school in town for teachers from the point of view of slipping out during your break to buy supplies. The building is relatively new, at least as far as high schools in Pensacola is concerned, originally built in the early 80s.

I was a teacher at Washington High School myself and so I’m familiar with it. I can say that with the 05/06 school year definite improvements have been made. Thankfully, the school is no longer saddled with the inept administration with which it had to put up for the last few years. The Michael Brown-type Principal of the last few years, who shall not be named in this article, was thankfully removed from that position of power before the school could be run into the ground as deeply as Brown ran FEMA into the ground. Unfortunately, like Brown, the former Principal is now in a well-paid job within the very same system. Unlike Brown, however, it doesn’t appear to be a temporary situation. At least the school can move forward from its dark ages, however.

What truly sets BTWHS apart from the crowd is their Maritimes Studies Institute. Pensacola, in case you weren’t aware, is right on the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, Pensacola-much to the dismay of St. Augustine’s Chamber of Commerce-is actually the first European settlement in the US. The reason the city isn’t the oldest is because of a gap in the history caused by a mass exodus for several years following a catastrophic hurricane. That hurricane, fortunately for the Maritime Studies Inst., left a treasure chest full of items buried at the bottom of the Gulf. The MSI works to train students interested in maritime careers including history, archaeology and research.

Washington High School is staffed with many excellent teachers and features several very fine programs. They are staffed with several well-trained teachers in the foreign language department. In fact, most of their foreign-language teachers are foreign-born and their first language is their native language which they teach.

In addition, the school has an excellent mathematics and science section. One of the highlights of the school is their health/nursing program. The school includes several classes dedicated to helping students who wish to pursue a nursing career, leading naturally to the very good nursing program as the local college, the Univ. of West Florida.

The history/government/politics teachers are also some of the best in the school and thankfully allow for a wide range of thought and expression. Students are constantly encouraged to think about what is going on in the world around them even as they are being taught about what happened thousands of years ago.

The English department is also staffed by some very experienced teacher, along with some newbies. Along with English, there is a school paper. Unfortunately, the school paper faces the same problems with first amendment issues as the real world. Last year, the paper tried to include an article on Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 but was shot down by that nameless Principal I mentioned earlier. It is to be hoped that the new Principal is more democratically inclined, as the journalism teacher is an excellent educator trying to publish a quality paper.

In addition, the English department also features a drama section with a much-respected teacher. The drama club puts on several plays a year. Last year’s selections ranged from the very dark Greek tragedy Medea to the not so dark musical The Boyfriend.

Art is very important to Washington High School. Walk through the corridors and you will see artwork produced by students at every turn, in every medium. Whether it’s drawings and paintings hanging behind glass at “The Junction” or the huge mural that decorates “The Atrium,” Washington is imbued with a sense of art. The school features a top-notch pottery class that has produced several award-winning entries from the very talented students who attend the school.

As if that weren’t enough, Washington High School also features a team that consistently places high in faux court competitions. Students are coached in the method of appearing on the witness stand and in how to question witnesses in a competition designed to win a fake court case.

Washington’s band has traditionally suffered from the same fate as the bands of most other high schools in the area, that of being compared to the band of Tate High School. Tate has traditionally fielded one of the finest high school bands in the country, often appearing in parades on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But Washington features a very respectable band as well an acclaimed choral program.

As with just about any high school in the south, football is big. And Washington nearly always fields a competitive team. That’s saying something when your competition includes other schools that have won several state titles and even unofficial national championships. NFL star Derrick Brooks is an alumnus. (As is boxing champ Roy Jones, Jr.). But where Washington High really shines in the field of sports is swimming. Washington High School features the only Olympic sized swimming pool inside the school in all of northwest Florida. And since it’s not just for the swim team, it even features handicap access.

Treating the needs of the disabled is a big part of Washington. The school features one of the best trained and most knowledgeable special needs staffs in all of Pensacola. Having taught a deaf girl myself, I speak from personal experience when I tell you that I never had to halt or in any way hold up my teaching program while waiting for Braille translations of the literature I covered. (The fact that Braille translations aren’t already available for deaf students is another matter, but chalk that one up to the W’s equally brilliant brother, Jeb, who would rather spend billions on buying standardized tests created and graded by his friends’ company than on supplying alternative textbooks to disabled students.)

When it comes to guidance counselors, Washington offer a rotating plan that I thinks works very nicely. Instead of having a guidance counselor set for each grade every year (one for ninth, one for tenth, and so on) the school instead assigns a guidance counselor who will follow the students throughout their entire high school career. In other words, the ninth grade guidance counselor this year will become the counselor for tenth grade next year, eleventh the year after that and finally spend a year as twelfth grade counselor before moving back to ninth again. It works really well because by the time the students really need that counselor as they prepare for college, they’ve gotten to know them and the counselors have gotten to know the students as well.

Each morning at Washington high school begins, at the end of first period, with a school-produced morning news show hosted by students. The students write, perform and manage the technology. It’s a terrific learning experience that is invaluable for those wishing to pursue media-based careers. The drama teacher is charge of this as well.

Students have the opportunity to join a multitude of clubs, including a drama club, various foreign language clubs, a chess club, cheerleding club, and several public service clubs.

Security issues have increased all across the country and especially at schools, in light of the school-based violence that seemed so prevalent in the late 90s and early part of this decade. No student is allowed out of class without a pass and often the school implements a no-pass policy. All visitors are required to check in at the front office and a security guard patrols the parking lot during school hours.

Washington High School may not be the greatest school in northwest Florida, but now that the dark times as past, it may well be on its way to becoming just that.

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