Local high schools named to ‘America’s Best’ list

Newsweek recently released ‘America’s Best High Schools,’ a ranking of the best 2,000 high schools in the nation for 2013. Four local high schools made the grade. North Hills Preparatory School, an Uplift Education charter school in Irving whose students are chosen by lottery, was ranked 41. Coppell High School (open enrollment) was ranked 265. Irving ISD’s Jack E. Singley Academy (lottery) and MacArthur High School (open enrollment) were ranked 1699 and 1775 respectively.

The list is based on six components: graduation rate (25 percent), college acceptance rate (25 percent), AP (Advance Placement)/IB (International Baccalaureate)/AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) tests taken per student (25 percent), average SAT/ACT scores (10 percent), average AP/IB/AICE scores (10 percent), and percent of students enrolled in at least one AP/IB/AICE course (5 percent).

North Hills Preparatory School has appeared on previous Newsweek’s ‘America’s Best High Schools’ lists.

“We’ve been on various lists for seven years,” North Hills Prep’s Managing Director Shawn Stover said. “We are very pleased that national publications recognize the fine work we think we are doing in Irving for the kids. How can you not be pleased and excited when you get national recognition at a high school level?

“We think we are just a humble little high school, and we are doing the best we can. It is just very uplifting when you get national recognition by independent agencies.

“I hope it lets folks know there are quality options in public education. I know Irving ISD is doing a good job, and they are turning things around,” he said.

North Hills Prep takes a multi-pronged approach to providing students a quality education.

“I think we do three distinct things,” Stover said. “First I think we offer kids a college prep education using the International Baccalaureate (IB) framework. High school seniors are able to get a lot of college credit while they are in high school. If they graduate with an IB diploma, they are guaranteed at least 24 hours of college credit at a Texas public university. We also offer a lot of AP classes. A lot of our seniors go into college with anywhere from 12 to 36 hours of college credit.

“We have great, great parent support. Parents are active participants in our school. We ask them to volunteer 25 hours per year per family.

“And we just have great, hard working students from literally all over the world.

“Last year our graduating class, which was about 86 students, was offered almost $12 million in scholarships and financial aid. So far, our 102 seniors this year have been offered over $9 million. One of the things we really focus on is ensuring that our kids are successful once they are in college. Part of that success is not only making sure they are academically ready, but also that they are financially able to afford college,” Stover said.

Coppell Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Turner believes the national attention brought to the school district by the Newsweek rankings is good for the entire community, not just those families who have students in the school system.

“We are extremely proud of the efforts of our Coppell High School staff and the performance of our students,” Turner said. “We have had a rapid increase in the number of students who are taking advanced classes at Coppell High School, and the Newsweek report is partially based upon the number of students who are taking the AP and IB courses, and the number who are being successful in those courses.

“The SAT/ACT scores in Texas have been pretty much flat. But in Coppell they have been trending upward, and our college readiness numbers are trending up.

“I think the ranking is a great thing for the community. It means something to the parents who know their kids are getting an opportunity to have a great high school education to prepare them for college. It also means something to people who don’t have kids. Property values increase every time the schools are put on a list that shows that Coppell ISD is a great school system.

“We are making progress, but we are nowhere near where we think we can be. We have great potential because of the kids, the staff and the supportive community we have. We are continuing to refine and create a system that is second to none in the state of Texas,” he said.

Irving ISD is working towards creating well rounded students who are ready for whatever awaits them after high school.

“These rankings give an external review that the community can be proud of. Our school district tries to provide a well rounded program that is not just about taking a test,” said Irving ISD Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden.

“Our four year graduation rate without exclusions from the state for 2011 was listed at 84 percent, and the completion rate is 85 percent, and all those numbers are up. Our dropout rate for grade 9 through 12 continues to sit around two percent of our population. Our attendance rate is still going up. About 96 percent of our kids meet attendance expectations.

“We have focused on the number and percentage of kids who are taking AP courses and how they are doing,” he said. “This past year, we had a 9.4 percent increase in AP participation; a 17.3 percent increase in the scores of a 3 or better. (AP tests are scored from 1 to 5.)

“In 2009, our SAT participation was 39 percent. In 2011, 85 percent of our juniors took the SAT, and we had a 15 percentage point gain in the scores. There is a lot of collaborative effort with central office and the schools to have our kids college and career ready. I think it is finally paying dividends externally also. The district continues to have a very strong reputation throughout the state and even the nation.

“The things we are doing are systemic across the district,” Bedden said. “In our secondary fine arts classes, we have gone from 49 percent to almost 69 percent participating in fine arts. In our career and technical education program, we have had an over 50 percent increase going from 6,000 courses being taken to over 10,000; and they are all rigorous when related to science, technology, engineering and math.

“We need to keep working to provide a high quality educational program for our kids that also allows them to be well rounded, which means they get to participate in a variety of opportunities. We want to have high school and college graduates that are employable when they leave us, and that is our goal.”

For more information on the Newsweek rankings, visit www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/features/2013/americas-best-high-schools.html .

Some information provided by Irving ISD.

About the Author

Jess Paniszczyn
Jess discovered an aptitude for writing in high school. After earning a B.A. degree in English he joined the ranks of the working class where he quickly found he did not work well in a corporate environment. He took a series of technical writing contract jobs working for such companies as AT&T, Sykes Enterprises – where he worked on IBM projects – and Lomas Mortgage. To support himself during lulls between contracts, he began working with the Dallas Morning News in operations where he worked part-time for several years, eventually migrating to the Irving Daily News in its final year of publication. Jess was the first writer hired by The Rambler Newspapers and has been with the company since the publication of the initial Irving Rambler Newspaper. He has found a home at the newspaper that as a young writer he never thought would ever find working ‘in the real world.’