FORT WORTH -- Paschal High School's 10-day summer college test preparation course may have the reputation of an academic boot camp, but it has evolved into a coveted spot for students from Fort Worth and beyond.
Veteran Paschal employee John R. Hamilton started the course nearly three decades ago in an effort to help students perform better on college entrance exams so they could earn scholarships and recognition from the National Merit program. The course has grown from a few dozen students in 1985 to nearly 1,000 from Fort Worth and beyond each year.
Paschal, an academic powerhouse, had 19 National Merit semifinalists for 2012-13, the most of any private or public school in Fort Worth. National Merit semifinalists rank among the top 1 percent of high school seniors nationwide.
The school recently named its library in honor of Hamilton, who is in his 51st year at the campus.
"We knew we had lots of smart kids, but we had relatively few scholars in the public schools. The whole point was for me to set out to change that by working on advanced academics," Hamilton said. "You can't just magically turn a bunch of students into better students. There's nothing easy about any if it. It's still a matter every year of trying to convince kids to take as much advantage of advanced courses."
Former students and colleagues gathered in the campus theater for the library dedication.
"What was really neat is that the alumni from classes he taught in the '80s and '90s talked about how he had changed their lives and that he pushed them to study more and to take advanced classes," said Jan Hull, president of the Paschal Alumni Association.
Hamilton, a former math teacher, became the district's first academic coordinator in 1983 after he proposed starting the position at Paschal to improve academic quality. Now, all Fort Worth schools have academic coordinators.
In the 1980s, Hamilton was the only calculus teacher at Paschal, which currently has six. Paschal offers college-level Advanced Placement courses in 30 subjects, and about two-thirds of the student body -- nearly 1,800 students -- is enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement courses.
The school's first National Merit semifinalist was named in 1987, based on scores on the 1986 Preliminary SAT test.
Although Hamilton retired in 2006-07, he still works part time under the title of academic coordinator emeritus, crunching data, working with teachers and performing other tasks.
The summer test preparation course, in which students can enroll every summer after completing the eighth grade, helps boost the average student test score by 100 points, said Barbara Ozuna, who was hired as the academic coordinator when Hamilton retired. Ozuna was Hamilton's student when she attended Paschal in the mid-1980s. The course draws about half its students, who pay $150 per summer to enroll, from the Fort Worth school district.
"We've got people who've got relatives from other states who come and do their vacations here so they can take our class," Ozuna said.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326