Skip to main content

The legacy of Jacob Tome lives on

Jan 01, 2015 01:46PM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

Gallery: “Tome is unique. We put a big emphasis on respect, personal responsibility, and academic rigor. We talk about doing things the Tome way.” ~ Christine Szymanski, head of school at The Tome School [6 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

The numbers tell a story—at least part of the story—at the Tome School.

Earlier this year, 44 students graduated from the school—the largest graduating class ever for one of Maryland’s oldest schools. And those students collectively earned $5.5 million in college scholarships.

The school’s seniors in the two most recent graduating classes exceeded the state average SAT scores in reading, math, and writing by more than 100 points in each category.

More than 125 years after Jacob Tome, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, set out to create a school that would allow students to acquire the skills necessary to be successful in their lives, the school that bears his name remains true to his original vision.

“Tome is unique,” said head of school Christine Szymanski. “We put a big emphasis on respect, personal responsibility, and academic rigor. We talk about doing things the Tome way.”

Amy Brown, a math teacher at the school for the last 18 years, explained, “We do one thing and we do it well. We take average and above-average students who have a goal of going to college and we get there.”

When a graduate of The Tome School arrives on a college campus, he or she is typically ready for the new academic challenge.

“We are very academically driven,” explained Szymanski. “So when they get to those schools, they are very well-prepared.”

This year, there are a total of 465 students in the private, co-ed day school in North East—150 in the upper school (grades 9-12), 155 in the middle school (grades 5-8), and 165 in the lower school (K-4). Students come mostly from Cecil County and Harford County in Maryland, as well as nearby New Castle County in Delaware and Chester County in Pennsylvania.

Everything about the school is very personal. As its top administrator, Szymanski has a hands-on role in selecting which students are admitted to the school. There is a comprehensive system of testing and screening in place during the admissions process.

“We also ask the students to come to the school to shadow for a day,” Szymanski explained.

A student who completes the Upper School curriculum will present 24 academic credits to colleges—eight in English and four each in history, mathematics, science, and foreign language. Students can explore dual enrollment options with Cecil College and University of Delaware and take AP exams.

Chalin Anton is the school’s college counselor. She works with each student as he or she is selecting a college.

“Our number one goal,” said Anton, “is to help the students find a school that is a good fit for them.”

With small class sizes, the faculty members provide personal attention to students. Szymanski has more than 13 years of experience at Tome, working as a full-time teacher until she was selected to serve as the interim head of school last October. She became the school’s top administrator on a permanent basis in February. As the parent of three Tome students herself—two who have graduated and one who is still in the school—she is a staunch believer in the school’s mission of providing a high-quality education at an affordable price.

Szymanski still teaches a middle school math class each day.

“It reminds me of my purpose,” she explained. “The reason I am here is for the students. I love the kids that come here, the sense of community and the sense of history that we have. It’s an academically rigorous school, but it’s also a community—a community of students and teachers and board members.”

Teaching a class also helps Szymanski understand what the 37 full-time and 11 part-time teachers are facing on a daily basis.

There is a heavy emphasis on tradition at The Tome School. When Szymanski enters a classroom, the students all rise from their seats as a show of respect. That same respect is shown in the hallways as students move from one classroom to another with quiet courtesy.

Szymanski said that the students are well-versed on the history of the school, including the story about its founder, Jacob Tome, who travelled down the Susquehanna to Port Deposit to embark on his career. Tome became a banker, politician, and philanthropist who lived most of his life in Cecil County and is believed to be the first millionaire in the county. In 1889, after building one of the largest fortunes in the U.S. at the time, Tome announced plans to create a school that would offer the finest education for students willing to undergo its regimen, regardless of their families’ ability to pay the cost for that education.

When Tome unveiled his vision for the school, he reportedly said, “I have lived for fifty-six years in Port Deposit and have made my money there. I think it is only right that I should spend some of it for the good of the people there. My purpose is to erect and equip the necessary schools and laboratories for 500 children. I want to give them a practical education to fit them for the duties of life.”

The school graduated its first class of high school seniors in 1898, the same year that its founder passed away. The school was a fitting legacy for one of Maryland’s most prominent citizens. With its emphasis on academic rigor, The Tome School flourished in Port Deposit and earned a reputation for its high academic standards. In 1906, it was the founding school for the Cum Laude Society. Children from the Carnegie and Mellon families studied at The Tome School.

Tome left the school an endowment that helped make the education very affordable for families. The Port Deposit campus had more than a dozen buildings, some of them designed by noted architects William Boring and Edward Lippincott Tilton. Frederick Law Olmstead designed the tree-lined streets of the campus. Landscape architect Charles Wellford Leavitt designed the school’s gardens. In 1942, the Tome campus was appropriated by the U.S. Congress, along with the land from 70 surrounding farms, for use as a U.S. Naval Training Center.

The school eventually outgrew the campus in Port Deposit and moved to its current home in North East. The stately building is modeled after Memorial Hall on the Port Deposit campus. The 100-acre property that the school is situated on was donated by Ralph Hostetter, a former member of the board of directors of the school.

A history display in the lobby bears witness to 126 years of learning, and the traditions at the school are still honored.

“We still have lots of traditions that make Tome unique,” Szymanski explained. A Founder’s Day celebration in honor of Tome is held each February.

Much of the modern curriculum still owes a great deal to Dr. William Marston Hogue, a longtime headmaster who served in various capacities during a three-decade career at The Tome School.

Szymanski said that the school’s heavy emphasis on literature, composition, and grammar in middle school can be traced to the curriculum that Hogue put in place. By concentrating on making students well-versed communicators in middle school, it guarantees that even those students who study math, science, or engineering at a higher level will still be able to read, write, and communicate effectively.

While The Tome School utilizes the latest technology in various ways, it’s not at the expense of lessons on practical skills.

“We still teach cursive handwriting here,” Szymanski explained.

At the same time, the 21st century educational opportunities at Tome rival any other school’s. An engineering class is working on designing a heart valve. Sixth-graders complete assignments in a STEM lab.

“We like to think that we’ve been doing STEM programming all along,” Szymanski said, pointing out that the strong academic program has always focused on math and science.

“We are graduating more and more students who are going into math and science fields,” Brown added.

According to Szymanski, she and the rest of the staff take great pride in knowing that they played a part in preparing students for their futures. In much the same way that the school itself has been shaped by its past, the students carry their Tome School educations and values with them for the rest of their lives.

Ultimately, however, what makes The Tome School the epitome of a small, personal, college preparatory school are the students—those 44 young men and women who worked hard enough to earn $5.5 million in college scholarships and surpass the state averages on standardized tests by wide margins.

“They are the ones who make the school what it is,” Szymanski said.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Cecil County's free newsletter to catch every headline

Local History