Humans love rankings. We want the teams we cheer for to be Number 1, our hometown the cleanest, our grilled cheese the cheesiest. Americans certify BBQ and chili contest judges so we can be confident who makes the best in any contest. Rankings may demonstrate things that can be measured with known metrics, but some may have so many variables that the numbers assigned don’t begin to capture the true worth of what is being ranked.
Recently U.S. News and World Report released a ranking of high schools. The top ranked schools naturally heralded their place at the top of the list, and for good reason. They have surely set and met high educational goals for their students that should be reflected in a scoring system.
The top 10 public high schools in Georgia are located in urban areas; only three are outside the Atlanta area. That really shouldn’t be surprising- urban communities have more money, more resources, and more means to attract the most sought-after teachers.
Those schools who don’t sort out at the top of the list shouldn’t be overlooked for what they provide for their students, families, and communities. The one that my daughters, their husbands, my husband and his brothers attended, Washington County High School in Sandersville, ranks 328th out of the 426 public schools in Georgia, according to the magazine. The school’s students and teachers are more accomplished than the ranking indicates.
What factors could contribute to WaCo’s (as locals often call it in football chants) landing in the bottom portion of the list? Does having 78 percent of the student body classified as economically disadvantaged pose challenges? Sure. A low income home might mean there is no home computer, internet access, or transportation to the local library to complete homework or use the computers available there. These students may be working to help support their family, leaving less time for schoolwork. Many may miss meals when not at school, and hunger impacts the ability to learn. The local food bank makes every effort to provide easy-to-manage foods for students when they are home, but the need is great when families struggle.
The U.S. News and World Report ranking data report 867 students enrolled in 9th-12th grades at the public school. The private school in town, Brentwood School, founded in 1969, where tuition this school year for one high school student is over $7,500, has 100 students in grades 9-12. While smaller classes can have benefits, being in a large economically, racially, and culturally diverse school setting has benefits inside and beyond the classroom.
The differences between the two school options are stark. But those differences don’t mean the students at Washington County High School lack ambition, talent, or success. Last spring more than 50 percent of the 214 students graduating from Washington County High School received their diploma having earned a grade point average of 91.5 or higher. School Board Chair Chris Hutchings said, “The Washington County School District is proud of its accomplishments in educating the students of our community. Our graduation rate is nearly 10 points higher than the Georgia average at 93%. Dual enrollment is up. Nine of the 214 students in the 2021 graduating class received Associate Degrees, and 12 had been accepted into the military upon graduation. Twenty had already received scholarships among the 86 that had been accepted into college.”
Behind every one of those high school diplomas presented in May are success stories past and future. The Washington County High School Class of 2021 follows some exceptionally talented graduates including:
- 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist
- Four-time Emmy Award winner
- Award winning playwright
- Medical and industrial research scientists
- Television news producers and journalists
- Doctors, lawyers, accountants
- WNBA and NFL players
- National Guard and armed forces volunteers
- Business owners
- Faith leaders
- Elected officials
- Leaders in civic and nonprofit organizations
- Teachers, counselors, school administrators
The rankings produced by U.S. News and World Report are a snapshot of what schools can and do accomplish. Being in the bottom portion of the rankings doesn’t make any student in Washington County less intelligent or capable, nor any teacher less able to inspire or improvise to help a student succeed. The ranking is just one ranking.