from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Proud with a reason: 

in the Sunday, April 3, Washington Post Magazine, there is a piece by Jay Mathews called High Schools That Work: Looking beyond average SAT scores to find top-notch Washington educations. It is the result of what Mathews calles his "back fence survey" in which
we asked readers which local high schools had impressed them and why. More than 300 people responded to The Washington Post Magazine's Back Fence Survey, nominating high schools and explaining what made them worthy of praise. Those who weighed in included parents, teachers, principals, students, alumni and community leaders. This wasn't a scientific survey and didn't pretend to be. But it highlighted some interesting high schools that we hadn't heard much about before, along with others that we had.

In addition to the Back Fence responses, we talked to education experts, visited schools and examined the numbers. Then we compiled a list of 30 exceptional public and private high schools from across the region. It's by no means comprehensive. There are undoubtedly lots of terrific schools that aren't mentioned here. But this list offers a glimpse of what some public and private high schools are doing right in the eyes of those who know the most about them.

The first high school listed,under Public High Schools, just happens to be one with which I am quite familiar:
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, Prince George's County: 2,869 students (26.6 percent white, 57.4 percent black, 4.3 percent Hispanic, 11.5 percent Asian, 21 percent low-income); average SAT 1061; 83.3 percent pass state English test, 57 percent pass state math test; Challenge Index rating 1.289; 63 percent of teachers have master's or PhD; 90 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges.

This very large school educates its students in an austere, prisonlike building with a bus fleet large enough to serve a small city. But it also has a big advantage. About one-third of its students have been selected based on grades and test scores for its science and technology magnet program.

In other words, it has more than its share of bright and ambitious students. Yet what parents and teachers gush over is not the many awards it has won or the number of AP classes it offers or the Ivy League admissions it boasts, but something more metaphysical. Eleanor Roosevelt has an extraordinary spirit, the Back Fence boosters say, stemming from the fact that 57 percent of its students are African American, that the nonmagnet students get as much encouragement as the science and tech whizzes, that klutzes are welcome on athletic teams and that the staff treats parents like partners rather than like dangerous intruders.

Udomah C. Ohiri says that when his daughter's grades slipped badly her freshman year and he sought help from her guidance counselor, within 24 hours all of the girl's teachers were assembled for a before-school meeting. "Life changed thereafter," Ohiri reports. Now a sophomore, the daughter "does all her school work without being reminded."

"I love the fact that we carpool with an Asian, an Indian and a Jewish-Caucasian boy," says parent Tina McGuffey, who describes her family as white evangelical Christian. Accustomed to her son's fine grades in middle school, she was stunned when Eleanor Roosevelt refused to let him take geometry in ninth grade. Despite his A in eighth-grade algebra, he had failed the school's algebra assessment test, which was not multiple choice and did not allow calculators. He took algebra again, the Eleanor Roosevelt way.

The school has an effective principal, Sylvester Conyers, and several legendary teachers, including Latin instructor Linda Squier and social studies teacher Kenneth Bernstein. Band director Sally Wagner and choral director Barbara Baker have created a 750-student musical juggernaut with so many ensembles and bands that one can barely keep count.

And yes, if you look in that last paragraph, you can now put a lastname on teacherken. Although I know Jay, that apparently had nothing to do with it. He told me that the teachers listed were named by multiple parents. And for what it is worth, we were the only high school for which teachers were listed. And even though we are best known as a Science and Tech magnet, the four teachers listed are two in the arts and two in the humanities.
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