A new school year just hours in, fresh faces buzzed around Dave Yenrick in Waite High School’s cafeteria, but the principal took a moment to remember the past.
He pointed to picture after picture on the wall, distinguished alumni of the East Toledo school.
The soon-to-retire principal rattled off name after name, what they did, where they went, like a walking encyclopedia. He remembered the year of graduation for nearly every one.
East Toledo’s Waite High has long maintained ties to its past and community atypical for an urban school. Its principal personifies those bonds. Mr. Yenrick, principal for 19 years, a teacher and educator a dozen more, and a proud Waite graduate himself, is an anomaly for an urban district.
PHOTO GALLERY: Waite High School begins school year
Few spend nearly their career in one school. Most principals get shuffled between buildings, move up to district leadership roles, or leave for more lucrative and less stressful suburban pastures.
Mr. Yenrick stuck around, providing a stabilizing force in East Toledo.
“We feel a sense of loyalty,” said Eulan Tucker, a distinguished Waite alum who stopped by the principal’s office.
Mr. Tucker’s mother, by the way, graduated from Waite in 1941, Mr. Yenrick will point out.
After all those years and all those names, this year will be Mr. Yenrick’s last. He could have retired earlier, but he wanted to stay through Waite’s centennial. The school opened in 1914.
Someone from his family has been associated with Waite since 1918, he said. He can rattle off the years they’ve graduated too. Uncle in 1933, aunt in 1935, mother in 1949. ... Even his wife, Carolyn Yenrick, has long served as a Waite administrator and came out of retirement to serve as dean of students.
Like any school year, there’s plenty that’s new this go-around. Most prominent among the students is a new district policy that loosens restrictions for student-phone use. Hallways and the cafeteria are now phone-friendly zones, much to the delight of students and the consternation of staff.
Some rules stay the same, though. Mr. Yenrick greeted students in the lunch line, reminding each to tuck in their shirts. As expectations were announced by staff over a loudspeaker, sophomores Daisy Mackay and Olivia Lopez settled into the back of the cafeteria, and busted out iPhones while they snacked. Childhood friends from East Toledo, they traded teenage hubris about their upcoming bid to “run the school.”
But they also found moments of clarity. Waite, they said, is a real high school, which is both a good and bad thing. Daisy went to a suburban high school last year but left after getting in trouble. It’s not the school that makes a kid, she said.
“It depends on the student,” she said.
This year, the long-running renovations of Waite appear nearly complete. The school was one of only a handful the district renovated instead of rebuilt; with no temporary space available to house students, renovations were done while students walked the halls.
The district spent about $20 million on renovations to Waite, a mighty sum, though dwarfed by the $42 million spent on Scott High School. The disparity is likely to be mentioned by former Waite Indians. The roof was repaired, new restrooms and windows installed, work done in the auditorium, and a science wing mostly renovated. But many areas remain untouched.
At its peak, Waite housed nearly 2,400 students. These days, enrollment is about 900. There’s been no single exodus, and Waite’s student population has been more stable than most, but there’s been a slow taper.
The introduction of charter schools, vouchers for private schools, and open enrollment to area suburban schools sparked some of the outflow. And that, Mr. Yenrick said, is degrading some of the bonds that still hold together a community never awash in riches.
That doesn’t mean Waite is shrinking toward oblivion. The school sports possibly the most active school alumni group in Toledo. They have helped fund everything from football stadium renovations to numerous scholarships for students, and still have a healthy bank account for future projects.
When asked why so many give and volunteer and care, Mr. Yenrick had no easy answer.
“There’s something about the east side,” he said. “I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
He paused, and said the Maumee River probably has something to do with it, a natural barrier that has physically and socially isolated East Toledo. But those faces on the cafeteria wall likely played as big a role. And maybe so did Mr. Yenrick.