Hamilton school leader’s letter draws private schools’ ire

The leader of Hamilton’s public schools system implies local private schools fall short of his district’s quality in a recent letter sent to area Catholic and other non-public school families.

Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Tony Orr’s letter touts his district in comparison to “some non-public schools” while contending — though not directly naming — that Cincinnati Archdiocese Schools and other private learning institutions lack the resources and expertise of the city’s public schools.

The letter is part of a new promotional campaign by Hamilton Schools to solicit private school families into considering enrolling their children instead in the city’s public schools.

The letter elicited a sharp response Tuesday evening by a few private school families from the city’s Catholic Badin High School with some attending a Hamilton Board of Education meeting and voicing their complaints about Orr’s characterizations.

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Orr stated in his letter that “unlike some non-public schools, our state of the art schools have a caring and professional teaching staff who are highly qualified.”

“This means that they are licensed, certified and trained in the content area they are teaching,” wrote Orr in the letter that was accompanied in the mail by a flier on Hamilton Schools. “In fact over 50% of our teachers have earned their Masters degree.”

Orr states “what impresses me the most is that our free public education allows us to offer more academic opportunities than non-public schools.”

He also wrote that “while some non-public schools have limited fine arts opportunities, Hamilton offers a wide range of these exemplary programs such as band, orchestra, chorus, drama and art.”

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The Cincinnati Archdiocese Schools are the largest provider of non-public K-12 education in Hamilton, operating five schools.

The letter left officials at Badin High School – the only non-public, Catholic high school in the Butler County city – surprised and disappointed.

“It’s a disappointing letter in that we feel we have a very cooperative relationship with Hamilton Schools,” said Dirk Allen, spokesman for Badin. “It surprises us that Superintendent Orr would be so critical of the private school opportunities in the Greater Hamilton area.”

“There are ways to promote the public schools without denigrating the outstanding private schools that offer our community many excellent choices,” said Allen.

But at the board meeting Orr expressed regret over his letter.

“Some of the letter was misconstrued, which was certainly not my intent. It was not our intent to offend. I do extend my apology for that,” Orr said.

“I am solely responsible for the letter. In the future I’ll certainly be more thoughtful given the total (school) community so that we can work collaboratively,” he said. “If I could go back in time I’d change my wording.”

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Public and private schools throughout Ohio have long-competed for the children of school families but rarely do so by criticizing one another in such a public manner.

“We work very hard to encourage students to attend Badin High School but we always do it in a positive way and go out of our way to not criticize other schools,” said Allen.

Allen disputed some of Orr’s letter, saying more than 50 percent of Badin’s teaching staff also have Master degrees and pointing out that 96 percent of Badin’s graduating seniors go on to college.

Besides Badin, the Cincinnati Archdiocese schools within the Hamilton city limits are: Queen of Peace School; St. Ann School; St. Joseph Consolidated School and St. Peter in Chains School. There are also eight other Archdiocese schools in Butler and Warren counties that draw students from the Greater Hamilton area.

Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese, declined to comment directly on Orr’s letter but instead said “at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we are proud of our excellent Catholic schools and happy to tell our story. We like to focus on outcomes.”

Catholic school parent Matthew Munafo said the letter “was very targeted against the children of the parochial and private schools of Hamilton” but added “I think this rift can be healed.”

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