March 2009 Issue
These successful Ohioans say attending a private high school gave them a big boost in their careers — and in life.
Helen France, a 1971 graduate of Hathaway Brown School, still recalls the first day she entered the private school in Shaker Heights. She was five years old. “I remember looking at the headmistress, in her brown-and-white saddle shoes with stockings, and I thought she was 9 feet tall,” says France. “She looked at my father and said, ‘Your daughter has been accepted at Hathaway Brown, and by the way, she will be going to Smith [College].’”
Twelve years later, during her senior year, France received a letter from that same headmistress, who had retired. It instructed her to complete the enclosed application for Smith College. As expected, France went on to attend Smith and later obtained her master’s degree from John Carroll University. Today she is a managing director in the Industrial Group for KeyBanc Capital Markets in Cleveland. “Hathaway Brown gave my life a foundation and a set of skills that I have taken to great successes,” she says. “They are the ones who did it for me.”
France is not alone in her strong belief in a private high school education. We spoke with several Ohioans who insist that their experience had a major influence on their careers.
Although these individuals have achieved success in a variety of fields, they all credit their private high school education for building a strong foundation in their lives. For instance, although France’s background is in language (her master’s is in medieval and Renaissance studies), she now works in corporate and investment banking, and she interacts with a diverse group of Fortune 500 companies. In addition to her banking career, France has a professional chef’s certification and owns a catering and cooking-instruction business.
“I can trace a lot of my success, confidence and optimism to Hathaway Brown,” France says. “It gave me the well-roundedness and a solid base [from] which I could have done anything. It could have been music or theater, but I have been with KeyBanc for 30 years.”
Much of that solid foundation comes from the sense of community at Hathaway Brown, or what France calls the personalized touch that you feel whether you are a student, parent or alum. “I never felt like a number at Hathaway Brown,” she says. The well-rounded experience she refers to manifested itself in both academics and athletics. At a time when opportunities for girls’ athletics were not widespread, Hathaway Brown offered a host of sports and recreation options to its students. “There was an emphasis on mind and body,” she explains. “You couldn’t do one without the other, and that’s important.”
A Hathaway Brown alumna who shares France’s sentiments is Belva Denmark Tibbs, a 1978 graduate who today is vice president of medical operations at Kaiser-Permanente in Cleveland. She is responsible for about 1,200 employees, 11 facilities and a $160 million budget.
“When I attended Hathaway Brown back in the 1970s, the school was on the cutting edge of dealing with racial and economic diversity. As a result, today I feel comfortable in any environment, and I learned that at Hathaway Brown,” she says, reflecting on the fact that she was one of the few minority students at that time. “Consequently, I can say that my interpersonal skills are probably more important than some of the technical knowledge that I have.”
Tibbs went on to study pre-med at Northwestern University and has an M.B.A. from Cleveland State University. “I took a lot of math and science, but I also have a love for the liberal arts, and that started at Hathaway Brown,” she says. This broad foundation, coupled with an emphasis on critical thinking skills, propelled Tibbs into college and later into a career that she loves.
Private high school graduates attribute much of their success in college to the academic preparation they received, as well as the work ethic that was fostered at their schools. John Feighan, M.D., is convinced that the academic rigor and discipline at his high school more than adequately prepared him for college and career. A 1982 graduate of University School in Hunting Valley, he is an orthopedic surgeon practicing in Cleveland. “I went on to the University of Michigan, and it always struck me how well prepared I was for college,” he says. “There were a lot of smart people, and I was in the honors program, but University School had prepared me for the rigors of college.”
Brian Brooks, a 1987 graduate of Columbus Academy and now president of E. E. Ward Moving & Storage Company in Columbus, agrees. “A greater emphasis on discipline was required to be able to meet the greater degree of academic rigor and requirements,” he says.
The experience was similar for Tracy Moore, a 2002 graduate of Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati, who went on to attend Harvard University. “There was a certain amount of discipline, and that inspired in me ambition,” he says. That ambition has taken Moore to his current position as executive director of the Leadership Scholars Program in Cincinnati, a nonprofit that empowersinner-city youth to be productive agents of change.Moore believes his experience at Summit taught him to be innovative, another big factor in his current career.
Many successful private high school graduates cite the benefits of single-gender education. Tillie Hidalgo Lima, a 1978 graduate of St. Ursula Academy in Cincinnati and the current president and CEO of Best Upon Request, a Cincinnati-based concierge service, observes, “The school said we have confidence in you, we see what’s in you, and we know that whatever you set your heart on, we will be here to support you.” She is so committed to this kind of learning environment that she sent all three of her daughters to the school. “I want my girls to have that confidence,” she says.
Lima, who went on to attend the University of Cincinnati, practiced pharmacy for 13 years before joining the company that her husband founded. She has been CEO for the past six years. During that time, the company has grown from 16 employees to 120, with 40 locations in 14 states.
Helen France believes the single-gender environment helped her as well, citing the importance of an all-girls’ education during the formative years. “I am a natural student and love what that’s all about,” she says. “At Hathaway Brown, we were encouraged to learn and question.” And all of that occurred without the obvious distractions that take place in a co-ed learning environment.
For Lima, another key factor in her private high school experience was faith; today, that background permeates her organization. “Faith, integrity and courage are the values of St. Ursula, and I have instilled those same values in my own company,” she says. As a result, community service is a big part of the culture at Best Upon Request. The company recently rented a school bus, and employees took kids from the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati to visit a farm — on company time. “Community service is a great way for people to give something back that’s very meaningful and compassionate, and it helps employees to be more productive,” says Lima.
Close, personalized attention is another advantage of private high schools cited by graduates such as Ajit Chaudhari, Ph.D., an assistant professor in orthopedics at Ohio State University and director of the OSU Sports Biomechanics Laboratory. Chaudhari is a 1991 graduate of The Wellington School in Upper Arlington. Profoundly interested in math and science since he was a small child, Chaudhari believes it would have been easy for him to ignore the other components of a sound education, such as reading and writing. “If I had gone to a large, public school, it may have been much easier for me to get in that little world and not experience everything,” he says. “At Wellington, you are encouraged and pushed to experience everything, and that helped to broaden my perspective. It’s quite likely that I would not have gotten as much exposure or given it the effort. But it’s hard to hide in a place that small.”
Many of these successful individuals mention the long-lasting friendships they formed during their high school years. Rocky Saxbe, a 1965 graduate of Columbus Academy and now an attorney with Chester, Willcox & Saxbe LLP in Columbus, says, “The greatest benefit to me and my career were the relationships I developed among fairly diverse classmates at the Academy.” There were 31 boys in his graduating class, and many have remained his friends.
Even today, these private high school graduates are unfailingly loyal to their former classmates and the schools they attended. Lasting friendships, unforgettable teachers, personalized attention and a high standard of academic excellence — all have contributed to an experience they believe laid a solid foundation for their careers. And like Helen France, they remain steadfastly committed to the institution where they got their start.
“It’s an amazing school,” says France about Hathaway Brown. “I have found that I love it more the further I get from graduation.”