display | more...
The magnet college preparatory high school within the Cincinnati Public school system. The idea is similar to such academic high schools as Boston Latin and Stuyvesant. In the sixth grade, Cincinnati school students (even some from private elementary schools) take the Walnut Hills Entrance exam, essentially an IQ test left over from the 50's, with the highest scoring students beginning at Walnut Hills in the seventh grade.

Walnut Hills dates to 1895 and claims a 'tradition of excellence' dating that far back. A cursory look would seem to reveal just that. The school resides in a building modeled on Jefferson's Montecello, atop a hill in the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati. All students complete three years of Latin, university level Chemistry, and are tracked one or two years ahead of others in Math. Two thirds or more of each graduating class generally attends college, with the overwhelming majority going to the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University, or another of the Ohio public colleges, but with some going to top national universities. The Latin motto Sursum Ad Summum ('strive for the highest') adorns all school materials.

A closer inspection reveals the stupidity, mediocrity, and range of social ills and alienation that define high school in America. The school's basic calling card is really that it is the one reasonable high school in one of the ghetto-est school districts in the country. If you know someone who attended high school in the Cincinnati public schools and they are not currently in prison, they likely attended Walnut.

One unique feature of Walnut, known colloquially as 'The Nut' or 'The Nutsac' is that the population is almost evenly divided between black and white students (It is home to the majority of white high school students the Cincinnati public schools). There are some Asians, and reflecting the community as a whole, no Hispanic students. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, social scenes seem to segregate along racial lines.

The school was originally conceived to be a beacon of learning in an era when most people did not even have a high school education, let alone university, and was to train leaders for the community. The rather grand domed building, which at that time was near the outskirts of Cincinnati, and Greco-Roman statues that line the halls attest to this design. Original course requirements were even more rigorous than those of today, requiring three years of ancient Greek as well as Latin.

The school's role was much as intended until the suburbanization of the post-war era took it's toll in terms of student base and school funding. With a college education becoming widely available, the idea of High School as higher education was becomming anachronistic. Later, the repeated refusal of Cincinnati residents to pass a tax levy to cover the bare operating expenses of their school system wreaked havok on Walnut Hills as it did all other schools. More and more classes were held in makeshift trailers on the school grounds. The words "Bruce Springsteen," spray-painted across the school's copper dome by some musicly motivated pranksters in 1978, remained for 13 years, only to be replaced by graffiti reading "'91". In the years I attended, 1990-1996, the plumbing was so bad there was often only one restroom open for 2000 students.

In the past several years, Walnut Hills has entered an unprecidented new era with 'public-private partnerships'. Through some legal mechanism I don't understand, the school actively solicits corporate sponsorships. This has lead to the old graffiti covered dome being replaced with shimering glass, and the construction of the brand new 'Bank One' arts and sciences building. Conspicuously absent are the trailers.

In order to be current the school's motto ought to be changed to 'Sursum Ad An Engineering Job' because this is the direction in which they push students. The commencement speaker at my graduation (1996) was 'an engineer.' I don't recall the students being consulted on this.

Walnut Hills' most famous alumnus is mass murderer Charles Manson. The most prominent former students who actually graduated are probably hippie turned yuppie Jerry Rubin and sculptor Jim Dyne.