Leaders for Tomorrow
Bright futures take shape for the young men at La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor
by Phil Gianficaro

“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.”

Twentieth century American inventor and businessman Charles Kettering, who authored the above quote, was driven by high expectations. Poor eyesight proved powerless to blunt his vision of success. His motivation and expectation were keys to his fascination with discovery; he was awarded an impressive 186 patents, including for Freon, the electric automobile starter and the electric cash register, and even developed an easy credit approval system, a precursor to the credit card system.

And if his surname looks familiar, it should. He helped found Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City, regarded among the leading cancer treatment and research centers in the world.

At La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, Kettering’s mantra lives on. Expectation and achievement in the classroom are in lockstep, as they have been since La Salle’s founding in 1858 as St. Michael’s School. At the all-boys school, the Lasallian commitment to rigorous learning has resulted in rankings of Advanced Placement (AP) Scholars and National Merit Recognized Students among the top tier of regional independent schools.

An AP Scholar is a student who has received an award from the College Board, a 117-year-old, private nonprofit formed to expand access to higher education, for doing well on several AP exams. There are several award levels according to how many exams the student scored highly on, as well as their average AP score. 

La Salle’s numbers are proof positive. From 2012-2016, 678 of its students achieved an AP Scholar designation, with 75 achieving a National AP Scholar designation. Also, the average percentage of La Salle students scoring a three (college-certifying grade) on a five-point scale on at least one AP exam is 86 percent.

In 2016 alone, and from 426 students tested, 156 achieved an AP Scholar award, including 20 who received a National AP Scholar award. This year, 37 percent of La Salle seniors achieved AP Scholar designation, an increase from 25 percent in 2012.

“Our students are doing well in multiple areas, and this achievement is a great opportunity for most of our students, to see what they can do in terms of college material,” says Michael O’Toole, who was named principal of La Salle College High School in 2012. “What they’ve achieved is a real measure of the quality of our students and faculty.”

The past three years, La Salle College High School has also claimed 20 National Merit finalists, 53 National Merit Commended students, one National Merit semifinalist and one National Achievement finalist.

The competition pool in National Merit competition is deep, underscoring the high level of success achieved by La Salle’s students. About 1.5 million students from approximately 22,000 high schools enter the National Merit Scholarship competition annually. Past winners include former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Elena Kagan, Academy Award-nominated director M. Night Shyamalan and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. In other words, La Salle students are in good company.

La Salle College High School has 159 total course offerings: the college preparatory core, fine arts courses, zoology courses, bioethics courses and more, with offerings in engineering and forensic science on the horizon.

Students at La Salle have the benefit of learning from skilled, devoted, passionate teachers. Of its 114 faculty members, 86 percent hold an advanced degree, 49 have experience teaching at a college or university, and 39 members of the faculty/staff are La Salle alums, including O’Toole, Class of 1968.

O’Toole spent 31 years as an administrator and teacher at La Salle College High School. He served as vice president from 2000-2005, responsible for oversight of school communications, admissions, financial aid and diversity programs. He taught English at the school from 1974-2005, serving as the department chair for eight years.

“The time since I was a student here has gone quickly,” O’Toole says. “But I was thinking about that time span and putting it into context. I graduated from La Salle in 1968, the school goes back a century and a half, and the Lasallian educational tradition goes back twice that. But our real focus is on the year 2020, when the current incoming class will graduate, and on 2025, when they are likely to begin their professional lives. Those are the days for which we are preparing them.”

Among the strongest areas of growth in the curriculum at La Salle is its I.T. program. The program also includes the Student Lab Manager Program, as well as TechServe, a service program through which students provide technology and networking support to the community. Students can choose from among 24 courses, including network engineering, digital design, print design, web design, programming and Microsoft I.T. Academy.

“Students can get industry recognized network certification, to use to go out in the summer or after graduation and get a good job,” O’Toole says of the I.T. program, which started about 15 years ago. “They can take industry-level exams at La Salle, get credit for the course and get industry certification. That’s a real boost for the students; it’s part of the 159 courses that are part of their choices. They’re getting real-world experience.”

Among the innovations designed to get students thinking about real-world task at La Salle College High School is the implementation of double periods for disciplines, such as the humanities. This lab-style addition affords students extra time to work out problems, communicate with teachers and interact with one another.

“The key here is the opportunity for them to collaborate,” O’Toole says. “There are a lot of complicated problems as they move forward into the real world and their careers. Here, they have the time to analyze and check. And if a teacher needs time to have a quick quiz, to see if the students have understood the lesson or if the teacher needs to go back over it, this is a time when it can be done. They can take a few minutes with the test, and then to go over specific parts of knowledge.”

At La Salle College High School, the mission to educate goes beyond expanding students’ minds, with plans for a new student center, breaking ground in October and to be opened in September 2017. This space, to be known as The Glaser Center, will be a 15,344-square-foot dining hall and assembly area, built in addition to a new Collaboration and Innovation Center.

“This year, within the library, we’re going to have the Collaboration and Innovation Center,” O’Toole says. “We’re going to furnish it with furniture and digital technology that students and teachers will be able rearrange to develop and foster collaboration. We will also roll out new courses, beyond AP, in engineering and forensic science. We’ll break ground for the student center in October, and we expect it to be done in September 2017.”

As an accomplished La Salle alum, O’Toole can impart to today’s students how the school has evolved, and how it continues to improve educational and service opportunities for students.

“We pull all those things together within a Catholic Lasallian tradition of faith, leadership and service,” O’Toole says. “That’s been a constant for many years, the way the faculty works with the students and the parents. I know from my student days that I can point to the La Salle tradition. I can tell them I get what the school is all about and how they can share in this ever-evolving tradition.”

La Salle College High School
8605 Cheltenham Avenue
Wyndmoor, PA 19038

Photograph by Sam Fritch