Schools move from dropouts to superstars

December 06, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

What a roller-coaster of a month for Hancock Middle-Senior High School. It goes from being decried as a "dropout factory" to acclaimed as among the best public high schools in the country - all in the space of about six weeks.

Now that's what I call progress. Someone give that principal a raise.

This is why I love lists.

Best this, top that, most these.

I blame David Letterman.

Rock radio stations didn't help. End of the year comes and no deejays feel like working through the holidays, so they can about three days' worth of taped programing and label it something like "DC 101 counts down the top 101 rock 'n' roll songs of all time."

And when you were 22, you would get suckered into that kind of stuff. You sit around the bar saying stupid stuff like "Jumpin' Jack Flash, No. 7? No. 12, maybe, but no way No. 7."


Hancock got hosed by a Johns Hopkins report that listed it as one of the worst schools in terms of dropout rate - an epithet that, as it turns out, it didn't deserve.

This proves Mark Twain's point that you can never fully trust an institution that doesn't know how to spell "John."

Now there's word that Hancock, along with five other Washington County schools - including South Hagerstown, mind you - were tops among the 19,000 schools across the nation as analyzed by U.S. News and World Report.

Way to go South. South's been ridiculed for decades. Parents would sooner pull their own heads off than see their kids go there. Now it's one of America's best. Must be the new press box.

That's a great story. People will be proud to say their kids go to South. Never, in my entire career, did I believe I'd live long enough to write that sentence.

South Hagerstown High School. Gateway to Harvard.

Matter of fact, it's all a great story. Of the 26 high schools in Maryland that made the "best of" cut, six are from Washington County.

I hope it's true. I hope it doesn't turn out that the people who compiled the data are the same ones responsible for rankings in the BCS college football poll. Or that it turns out that Betty Morgan is a member of the U.S. News and World Report Board of Directors.

You know how these things go. Washington County could be tops in U.S. News, but only middle of the pack in the coach's poll.

Washington County School Board Members Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner celebrated the news by announcing this week that they will not seek another term on the board.

They figure their work here is done, I guess. Back to the planet Krypton. Or maybe they can run for City Council and get Hagerstown named as one of the nation's best - no, even comic books have to live within the realm of believability.

Naturally, I was curious about the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report to determine which schools rose to the top. According to The Herald-Mail, it goes as follows: "Attains performance levels that exceed statistical expectations given the school's relative level of student poverty as measured by ..."

OK, I'm not that curious. You want me to take your word for something, just lay a little "methodology" on me, and I'll either believe you or take poison, one of the two.

I also get a little nervous when I see the word "relative." As in, "Hey look, a couple of kids actually went on to college. From Hagerstown. Fancy that."

Well, wherever the bar was set, we cleared it and to me, that's as positive as it is surprising.

As the headline on Page A2 that bumped up against the schools story on the same day said: "Can You Believe It?"

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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