Orcas High School recognized as one of the best in the country

The Orcas community has a lot of pride in its schools and works hard to keep them praiseworthy. Now Orcas High has received recognition on a national level for its outstanding scholastic performance.

U.S. News and World Report recently released its “America’s Best High Schools 2008” results. The top schools were placed into gold, silver, bronze, or honorable mention categories.

Orcas Island High School received a silver medal. Of the more than 21,000 schools surveyed in the country, only 504 received silver. In Washington state, four schools ranked gold, 12 received silver, and 30 were awarded bronze. Orcas Island High school was the only San Juan County school ranked.

U.S. News collaborated with School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education data research business run by Standard & Poor’s. The methodology was based on the principles that an excellent high school is one that serves all of its students well (not just those headed for university) and can produce academic results that demonstrate it is educating students across a wide range of performance indicators.

Using a three-step process, 21,069 public high schools in 48 states were analyzed. Data from the 2006-07 school year was used. The first step looked at how the schools performed on state tests and if students performed better than the state average. The second step determined whether the school’s least-advantaged students (black, Hispanic, and low income) were performing better than average for similar students in the state. If schools made it past those two phases, they were then judged on college preparedness.

Orcas High School offers a range of college-level Advanced Placement (AP) classes, including biology, European history, U.S. history, English, and calculus. The classes are funded almost entirely by community donations. The teaching staff is trained to teach AP and their curriculum is approved by the AP program.

“Even though we have a very small high school population, 30 percent or better are taking AP classes and 65 percent of those students are passing those classes,” said school board member Janet Brownell.

“I am thrilled,” she continued. “We’re always proud of our schools, but it’s remarkable when we are recognized on a national level. It’s also a testament to the community. A lot of the AP classes are funded by private money. The community should really feel proud and take ownership of this. It’s also a testament, truly, to our staff and our students. These kids are taking two or three AP classes and they are performing phenomenally. It’s a teacher and student collaboration to get this recognition. And we can’t forget the parents!”

Barbara Kline, Superintendent/Principal of the Orcas Island School District, says that what sets Orcas School apart is its quality of community, k-12 teachers, and students, who are committed to their studies and get support from their parents. She noted that young people have the opportunity to interact with all different kinds of people in the community and they receive a strong foundation of education in the younger grades.

“I think it’s pretty exciting recognition for the school, especially considering we got the School of Distinction Award this past fall. I think there is a correlation between those two because they are both data-driven,” said Kline.

Kline is referring to the state Learning Improvement Award and recognition as a “School of Distinction” that Orcas Island High School received this past fall. They earned the recognition due to their improvement in all WASL scores.