Patrick Bush (left), an advisor to the school, gets a laugh from Donell Watts during mock interviews held for senior students at Max S. Hayes H.S. in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND - Max is Back! signs greet visitors and remind students of the long road that Max S. Hayes Vocational High School has traveled, and of the many successes ahead. The inner-city school was once the shining accomplishment of the union trades that cooperatively built the school with the finest trade shop facilities.

However, the factors of economic change and time took a toll as the school fell into a period of disinterest and neglect. Today, Max (as it is affectionately called by students and faculty) is making a strong resurgence as it represents the only Cleveland high school to offer education in the trades. And, it couldn’t be at a better time as shortages of talented labor are rampant across all skilled trades.

The Building Construction (BC) department (which includes HVAC) and five other departments held mock interviews for senior students on Nov. 15. Local businesspeople that are members of the respective department’s boards of advisors took on the roles of employers for the students. Mike Murphy, editor-in-chief ofThe NEWS,and a BC advisory board member, took part in the on-campus interviews.

The six trades offered at Max include: automotive repair, autobody repair, building construction, diesel truck repair, machine trade, and welding and cutting. All students who attend the high school are involved in at least one program and often choose to become involved in a variety of the trades in order to have something to fall back on, according to one student. Derrick Burke is a senior at the school and a standout athlete in basketball, track, and baseball. After each mock interview, the “employers” stepped out of their respective roles to offer some career advice to the students.

When asked why he chose to attend Max Hayes, Burke said, “My parents told me that no matter what I wanted to become, that having a trade would always give me something to fall back on.”

Burke was in the eighth grade when he made the choice to attend Max. It wasn’t easy. He first wanted to attend local Glenville High School - also the prep school choice of current Ohio State standout wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Instead, Burke chose to take the long bus ride each morning for the specific education that was offered only at Max.

Several other students at the mock interviews who have aspirations of becoming lawyers, professional athletes, or of going on to four-year colleges also chose the vocational training offered at Max Hayes - and did so at an amazingly early age. Most eighth grade students haven’t given much thought to career choices and how they might couple a trade education with other talents they will amass in the world of work.

The reputation of what is possible at this inner city Cleveland school is spreading among people at an early age and is giving wing to some dreams of an older generation - the faculty of Max Hayes. Dave Makita, head of the machine shop, said he is anticipating more student enrollment at the school and talked about the possibility of enhancing the current HVAC curriculum, which is now part of the BC department. Makita has been at the school four years and would love to see all departments grow to serve the Cleveland community.

Jim MacDowell and Jim Mulgrew head up the BC department and both cover a lot of ground, from concrete, carpentry, all the way to HVAC. Admittedly, the HVAC program has a long way to go, and Mulgrew has some dreams of his own.

“When I took the teaching job a couple of years ago, the position had been vacant for about 10 weeks so the classroom was a mess. There weren’t many students enrolled. We started by building projects in the classroom and more kids started coming around to see what was going on. They liked all the activity and we have grown tremendously since that time. I’m hoping that Jim and I can continue to grow the HVAC curriculum. I think the students would really be attracted to the opportunities that a career in HVAC could provide,” said Mulgrew.

Mulgrew started working in concrete at the age of 17. One summer morning, while sitting on his porch on West 73rd Street in Cleveland, a foreman yelled across the street and asked if he wanted to work that day. Some workers didn’t show up and the foreman needed help. For $7 an hour in 1979, Mulgrew jumped at the chance. At the end of the day he asked for his $56. The foreman laughed and said, “The work’s not done. Come back tomorrow and I’ll put you on my crew.”

Mulgrew, a true example of merging a trade with another passion, began teaching about 13 years ago. He also attended Max Hayes after high school in order to complete his training in the cement masons trade. Now, he’s doing something he loves - preparing young men and women to help themselves to a good education and a good career.

The NEWS will be keeping track of the HVAC program development at Max S. Hayes High School. If you would like to know how the story progresses, stay in contact with Mike Murphy at

Publication date: 01/15/2007