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Southwestern Heights receives national recognition for academics PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 August 2017 11:37


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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



A new school year is nearly upon the area, and for Southwestern Heights Junior High and High School, the new academic calendar starts with great news.

The school was recently recognized amongst U.S. News and World Report’s Best High Schools in the magazine’s annual rankings.

Dan Frisby, principal of SWHHS, explained how the national ranking process works.

“They go hand in hand, but they have certain criteria for national rankings and certain criteria for state rankings,” he said. “We were recognized in both, and we received a bronze medal.”

Frisby said the rankings are all part of a four-step process, three of which Heights completed.

“They also go through and do public schools, private schools, but they’re all categorized differently,” he said. “We’re obviously in the public high school category.”

The first step, Frisby said, is looking at every school in every state and examining how they performed on state assessments in reading and math.

“They look at those scores, and in step one, they take into account what they call your economically disadvantaged students and see how they perform on state assessments,” he said.

In order to pass step one, Frisby said schools must perform at a level at least one-third of the standard deviation above the national average on assessments.

“We’ve got to be in the top third of our state assessments and how are economically disadvantaged students performed,” he said.

Frisby said U.S. News takes the top 10 percent of schools in reading and math to pass step one. For step two, the principal said the process looks at how a school’s economically disadvantaged students perform on assessments compared to the state average. Heights performed as well or better than the state average.

Step three looks at schools that meet or surpass the benchmark for graduation rates compared to their state.

“Our state, what they’ve done with this is they kind of used a number of 75 percent or more, and they look at a Cohort group,” Frisby said. “They’re going to look at freshmen through seniors over a four-year period, if at least 75 percent of those students graduate.”

Step four looks at a school’s college readiness performance, which Frisby said is now also part of the school accreditation process in Kansas.

“What they use to determine that is advanced placement, or AP classes, which we don’t have,” he said. “If you don’t have AP courses, you’re not disqualified, but you can’t earn a gold medal.”

Nearly 3,500 schools across America were eligible for and awarded bronze medals by the U.S. News rankings. Heights was one of 93 in Kansas to receive such an award. Frisby said the data used for the rankings was from the 2014-2015 school year as more recent data was not available.

Frisby said while Heights does not offer AP classes, the school does provide a board of regents curriculum.

“(It) is a higher curriculum for kids who are maybe on a more advanced track and they’re going to go directly into a four-year school or a board of regents school. That just requires some higher level math and science and more years of math and science.”

Frisby said no discussions have happened regarding having AP classes at Heights, and he is unsure if the district will have plans to offer the courses in the future.

“It’s probably going to depend upon the needs of our students,” he said. “What’s best for our kids is what drives a lot of our decision making.”

Frisby said this accomplishment was made possible from a team effort of everyone with Heights. 

“We couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for the work of our kids and our staff and our teachers and the support of our parents and board,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that go into these kind of things, and all of them need to be recognized in my opinion. It takes a whole community of folks to come together to support kids when you have success.”

Frisby said the recognition means a lot for the USD No. 483 school district as well as Southwest Kansas.

“We have great schools out here,” he said. “We have great schools. We have great kids, great teachers. It just lets everybody else know what we already know. I think it just speaks highly of the work of teachers and what schools do in Western Kansas. It just makes me proud to be an educator in Western Kansas and that Western Kansas is getting some recognition.”

For Heights, Frisby said the award simply solidifies what those at the school already knew.

“We feel like we do a good job,” he said. “We’re very confident that our teachers are competent and they’re good people and we’re doing the things we need to do and that our kids are doing well. It just makes us very proud for others to know what we feel like we know. We’re very proud of what we do and the product that we turn out. It just kind of solidifies that for us. It’s kind of a pat on the back for our kids and our staff and our communities.”

Frisby said many times, schools are recognized for non-academic accomplishments, and having an accomplishment such as the U.S. News ranking is what makes him the most proud.

“Schools are known for state championships and things like that, but when your students achieve in the classroom, they’re going to achieve in life,” he said. “That’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to do is to prepare those kids for life after high school and college.”

Frisby said there is little Heights does to set itself apart from other schools, but he did point to one thing teachers do to help students perform better on assessments.

“Every school is different,” he said. “Kids are different. Every school has a different climate and culture. I think one thing that our teachers do very, very well is we meet kids where they’re at. I don’t mean just academically. I mean also as far as emotionally, socially. We meet kids where they’re at, and we try to take them hopefully as far as they can go in all of those areas, whether that’s social or emotional, academic, athletic.”

A personal touch is therefore what Frisby said makes Heights the quality school it is.

“I don’t know that we’re doing things different than any other schools that are successful other than I think we know our kids,” he said. “Our teachers work really, really hard to best educate the kids with the challenges that they come to us with. They just understand and have a heart for kids and meet them where they’re at and inspire them to get them where they can go.”

Frisby said Heights teachers have chosen the school specifically to do their part in the education process.

“Our teachers have chosen to be here, and they’ve chosen to educate these kids,” he said. “Our kids, like a lot of districts, come with a lot of challenges, whether it’s second language or the socioeconomic, but they’ve chosen to work with these kids and these families. Fortunately, our families are very supportive. That helps a ton.”

Frisby said meeting students’ needs does not stop with academics.

“A lot of the academic success that we’re having is based on some of the other successes that we’re having in those kids lives, whether that’s social or emotional or any other area,” he said. “We’re meeting their needs, or they wouldn’t be successful in the classrooms.”

Frisby said getting the news from U.S. News was an awesome way to kick off the school year for USD 483.

“I can’t think of a better way to start the school year,” he said. “It’s a great pat on the back or shot in the arm for our staff. It starts the year on a high note, and hopefully, that’ll continue as what we get going.”

Frisby emphasized the ranking is an accomplishment primarily of the students at SWH.

“These are successes of the kids,” he said. “We provide them opportunities to be successful, but they reach those expectations. It’s all about the kids. It’s just all about the kids and what they’re able to do and how we’re able to support them and help them achieve those goals.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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