Fifteen Minutes: Trouble in the House

For the about 2000 students at Cambridge's only public high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), the house is home. When they enter as freshmen, each student is placed in one of the school's five houses: The Academy, Fundamental, House A, Leadership or Pilot. Each house has its own floor in one of the two buildings that comprise the school.

Deep problem plague CRLS: in spite of the house system, many students feel anonymous and, without rent control in Cambridge, the population is increasingly stratified.

"Folks of color are not succeeding as well as whites and Asians," adds Kimbrough.

Evans notes that in the past, administrators and teachers have assumed that with a lot of choice, kids would succeed. "The result of this shopping-mall high school was that students treated it like a mall and would drop in and out. Too many kids are not successful here, and we are not challenging the academically talented as much as we can."

CRLS was first incarnated in 1648, just 12 years after the founding of Harvard College. In its 350-year history, today's Cambridge Rindge and Latin School has existed as a variety of separate parts, most recently as the Cambridge High and Latin School and the Rindge Technical School. These two schools, located just 100 feet apart, merged in 1977. Just prior to this merger, the Cambridge High and Latin School had already initiated some major changes.

In 1968, The Pilot School was created, offering mixed-level classes, and other experimental teaching styles and course offerings. The Fundamental School opened six years later. Heralded as the anti-Pilot, Fundamental offered a "back-to-basics" diet of core classes.

Paula Evans, principal of CRLS, explains that "as a result of the two programs, people realized that the philosophy was secondary. What was more important was to provide a sense of belonging and community." The "school within a school" options expanded. Since the fall of 1990, all incoming freshmen have been offered the choice of five or six houses. These programs of choice differ in theme, emphasis and management.

Pilot, the oldest alternative school in the country, is the smallest of the houses, with 235 students in all four grades. The Fundamental School operates with a prescribed curriculum in a fundamental educational setting. The Academy emphasizes collaborative learning, through team-teaching and heterogeneous class groupings. 40 percent of The Academy's student are enrolled in the Bilingual Program (see Lost and Found in Translation, page 9). The Leadership School emphasizes community service and teachers try to educate everyone--including special needs students--together within the core subjects. In House A there are leveled classes where students are grouped by ability. Formerly the sixth house, the Rindge School for the Technical Arts (RSTA), started this year as a department for the entire school, equivalent to social studies or science.