Five percent of schools in the United States.
That is how many schools Washington Post education reporter Jay Matthews believes can call themselves great.
They are the schools that are encouraging students to work at their top potential, he said.
In Collier County, one school can count itself among that 5 percent, just as it has done for the past four years.
Barron Collier High School again has been named to Newsweek Magazine’s list of the Top 1,200 U.S. High Schools.
The school is ranked 372, which is higher than its initial 2003 place of 440, but lower than last year’s ranking of 248.
“Yes, we are lower, but we are still 372 out of 1,200. That’s still remarkable,” said Barron Collier Principal Ron Miller.
The scores are figured by dividing the number of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests taken at the school by the number of graduating seniors.
The 1,200 schools represent about 5 percent of the high schools in the United States, according to Matthews, the author of the Newsweek Magazine article and the man who started the project 10 years ago.
“You ask how rare it is to have a public high school (on the list), but how rare is it to have a school on the list?” he said. “The vast majority of schools out there are stupidly restricting students’ access to these classes. It’s educational malpractice.”
Barron Collier officials became aware of the list in 2002, when Carl DeFurio, the assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, brought the list to the attention of Miller.
“We called Jay Matthews and he told us that the way to get your name on the list was to self-report to him,” Miller said. “Our numbers have changed over the years because, although we are giving more AP tests, we have more students as well.”
Barron Collier started on the list at 358 on May 1, but has dropped to 372 when some schools reported their data after the initial story came out. Newsweek’s Web site asks schools to report their data if they think they should be on the list.
Matthews said since he started the project 10 years ago, three times as many students are taking AP classes. More black and Hispanic students are taking the exam.
Matthews said many people deserve the credit, including Florida.
“Florida is one of the few states that subsidizes AP and IB classes,” he said. “This means more schools are giving students access to those classes because the state will pay the exam fees. We are seeing that in the D.C.-area schools. Fairfax County Schools were the first to do it, and the practice is spreading.”
In Florida, 77,910 students took an AP exam in 2005, according to the state Department of Education’s Florida public schools advanced placement exam results. Collier County is ninth in the state in terms of AP exams with 1,499 students taking the test in 2005. That number represents 29 percent of juniors and seniors in the district, according to the Department of Education Report.
Barron Collier gave about 1,010 AP tests last year, where last year’s rankings come from, according to DeFurio. He said about 400 to 450 students take the AP tests.
“Every year it increases,” he said. “We are now teaching 90 percent of the possible AP subjects that we can teach. You have to have the numbers (to be on the list). It is not just about the AP classes, but how many you offer.”
Miller said there are several reasons Barron Collier is on the list, but discounted that it was only Barron’s geographic location that propelled it to have the scores necessary to get on the list.
“Obviously, the geographic draw is a significant piece,” he said. “But we are very fortunate in the kids we have the parental support. And we have fantastic teachers. You can have the best of the best, but if you are not teaching them and engaging them, they won’t learn.”
Carolyn Klimek, who teaches two sections of AP calculus, said she tries to engage her students using humor and sending them to the board to work out problems.
“I am hard on them, but I do it with humor. It makes it less painful for the students,” said Klimek, who has served as a scorer for AP exams. “For us to make headlines, this is wonderful. It is not just good kids. It is the atmosphere and the teachers, too.”
Theresa Herms, a Spanish and French teacher at Barron Collier, said passing an AP course means something to a student’s academic career. Herms should know. She has served as an national AP scorer for the Spanish exam.
“If you pass, it is like passing a third-year college level class,” she said. “That means something. It is money in the bank for parents because the kids are going to earn college credit. For the students, it is the way to get in to Brown and Harvard.”
Herms said the recognition is “awesome” and validates the hard work put in by the students. She said the students in AP classes have a group dynamic that pushes them to do well.
“These are good students who care about what they are doing and where their GPA is. They ask each other all the time and it brings them all up higher. It is an atmosphere of competition, but it is an atmosphere of encouragement as well. These students want to be as good as their fellow classmates,” she said.