He left four years ago, but Craig Hockenberry is still tethered to the school—and the kids—he began saving more than 11 years earlier.
Hockenberry, who earned his Master of Education in 1998, is the principal who convinced the Cincinnati Public Schools to expand Oyler Elementary into a high school so it could enroll some of the 85 percent of former Oyler students who dropped out before 10th grade.
The caveat: he had to find them and bring them back. So he started knocking on doors in the mostly Appalachian neighborhood of Lower Price Hill.
“I had to find about 190 kids to fill the school,” he says. “We enrolled a lot who were in really bad shape academically.”
His success bringing so many students back to school was rooted in the personal relationships he developed with the students’ families and partnerships with local businesses and organizations. Those relationships helped him expand the school into a community learning center to serve the entire neighborhood with tutoring, mentoring, weekend food supplies and an on-site health clinic that also offers vision, dental and mental health services.
The result: The school now graduates over 60 percent of its seniors, from 30-50 students a year. About half go to college.
The school's success began to attract attention, including from New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who toured the school in 2013, and from American Public Media reporter Amy Scott, who did a story about the school that aired on public radio the year before. Knowing there was more to the story of Oyler, she committed to creating a video documentary for Marketplace by following the school for a year. It took two.
“Oyler: One School, One Year” first aired in May 2015 and has been touring America ever since. Though now superintendent at Three Rivers Schools, Hockenberry stays in touch with Oyler and often travels with the film to cities across the U.S.
In October, he and a panel of Oyler administrators showed the film to Xavier education, psychology, social work and counseling students and faculty. The discussion focused on the challenges of urban education for both students and educators.
“We are slowly breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Hockenberry, who serves on the advisory board of the College of Professional Sciences. “Poverty is brutal ... but the film helped a lot of them to achieve because so many people reached out to encourage and help them.”