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Four schools on 'best' list

December 06, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Four Washington County high schools were recognized in the U.S. News & World Report "Best High Schools" report released Thursday.

North Hagerstown and Smithsburg high schools were placed in the magazine's silver award category, and Hancock Middle-Senior and South Hagerstown high schools were placed in the bronze award category.

"I think it's an affirmation of the hard work that our students are carrying out, and the really hard work on the part of our staff members," Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

The magazine analyzed 21,069 public high schools in 48 states, using data from the 2006-2007 school year. The bronze award, which recognizes schools that do better than expected on state reading and math assessments, was awarded to 1,321 schools. The silver award, which recognizes success on both state assessments and college-level exams, was awarded to 504 schools. The top 100 with success in both areas received gold medals.

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Washington County Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Instruction Donna Hanlin said all of the county's high schools have done well on state assessments.

"This is a matter of what U.S. News & World Report considers important," she said. "There may be other formulas that would include all of our schools, or different schools."

The U.S. News methodology was designed to emphasize schools that serve all of their students well, not just those bound for college. To be selected, a school had to do well in relation to the poverty level of the students it serves, and the school's most disadvantaged students had to exceed expectations on state assessments.

Clyde Harrell, the county's director of secondary education, said the four schools selected do a good job of mitigating poverty to ensure students overall do well. The schools focus on challenging every student at his or her level or higher and intervene when a student is struggling.

Smithsburg High School principal Melvin Whitfield said the school was proud to receive a silver award for the second year in a row.

"It tells me that we're on the right track, we're doing the right thing for students, and we're preparing them for future learning."

North Hagerstown High School also received a silver medal for the second year in a row. There, principal Valerie Novak said faculty members use small learning communities to build individual relationships with students.

"If students walk in that front door and feel that someone cares about them, I think that makes a big difference, especially with students in poverty," Novak said.

Novak attributed North High's success to its faculty's hard work.

"Our parking lot's still full at 5 o'clock because teachers are working with kids, making sure kids are successful," she said.

Last year, six Washington County high schools received awards, with Williamsport and Clear Spring also on the list.

Harrell said those two schools are still doing well, and both have increased their scores in English.

"It must have been very, very close," he said.

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