The Muscogee County School District has five schools honored among the 2015 U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools.
Columbus High School is ranked No. 3 in the state and No. 85 in the nation on this year's list of gold medalists. The magazine awarded four MCSD schools bronze medals: Early College Academy and Kendrick High for the second straight year and Jordan High and Spencer High for the first time.
"The fact that these schools have distinguished themselves for academic performance on state assessments and preparing students for college-level work advances our commitment to becoming a premiere school district for our community," said MCSD superintendent David Lewis. "These results are the culmination of the dedicated work of faculties and staffs, motivated students and supportive parents and community throughout Muscogee County."
Carver High won a bronze last year but dropped from the rankings this year. Other local schools to receive medals this year are Auburn, Beauregard, Lanett, Marion County and Stewart County, all earning bronze.
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Columbus High has improved its ranking the past two years. It was No. 5 in the state and No. 202 in the nation in 2013, then No. 4 in the state and No. 104 in the nation in 2014.
The magazine used 2012-13 data to evaluate more than 29,070 public high schools. Sixty-seven percent of them didn't receive any recognition, 20 percent received bronze medals, 20 percent silver and 3 percent gold.
The gold medals are awarded to the nation's top 500 schools considered the best at preparing their students for college. The silver medals are awarded to high-performing schools with lower college readiness. The bronze medals are awarded to high-performing schools based on state exam performance and listed alphabetically.
The School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas is ranked No. 1 in the nation for the second straight year. The top-ranked school in Georgia for the second straight year is Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, which is ranked No. 4 nationally.
Out of Georgia's 442 public high schools, 64 (19 gold medals, 45 silver medals) are included in the nation's 500 the magazine ranked. Another 69 received bronze medals.
The magazine said it didn't rank Alabama schools because, along with Minnesota and South Dakota, use of Advanced Placement data wasn't granted. Instead, the magazine gave bronze medals to 108 of the Alabama's 361 high schools.
Columbus High principal Marvin Crumbs praised the students for continuing to “achieve at a very high rate” and the teachers for continuing to “meet the lofty expectations they set for themselves and our school.”
He also credits parents and alumni for supporting the students “in every way possible” as well as the district’s “elementary and middle grades education.”
Improvement has come, Crumbs said, from “increasing the critical thinking skills of our students while also making a push to increase the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses.”
Jordan principal Alton White called his school's award from "such a well-respected publication is exciting for our whole school but especially for our teachers and students. It is validation that their hard work is paying off."
During the past four years, intervention from the school district and Georgia Department of Education has enabled Jordan "look at everything from what we teach and how we teach, to what we grade, how we grade and how we report those grades," White said. "Our teachers have done an incredible job of working together to bring about a true change in culture and expectations. At the same time, we have demanded more from our students, and they have risen to the challenge and met those expectations. While we aren't there yet, we are excited about the direction we are headed. It has been a true collaborative effort from everyone involved."
Kendrick principal Alonzo James said the main factors contributing to his school's success are two initiatives, Response to Intervention as well as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, "along with the use of research-based best practices within classroom instruction. We have a faculty that works extremely hard, that goes above and beyond, to ensure that our students are put in the best situations to be successful."
RTI is designed to identify which students need which kinds of help with learning and behavior. PBIS is a proactive approach to school discipline.
Susan Willard, dean of the Early College, said the honor means "an awful lot of teamwork paid off - parents, students, teachers, staff."
The key component, she said, has been "the amount of contact we have with our parents. Accessibility to the teachers and the staff is important. If we have a problem, we have two-way communication."
Spencer principal Johnny Freeman wasn’t reached to comment on what has helped his school improve, but he said in a voice mail, “Our students and our teachers and our parents have all worked very hard this year and last year and prior years, so we are extremely excited to receive this honor. I just feel like this validates the hard work they put in, along with the support staff, and we expect more great things in the future.”