McKinney ISD’s three high schools will be teeming with students on Aug. 25: the wide-eyed and the cool, the freshmen and the veterans, athletes and scholars, artists and musicians – and everybody in between.
They’ll arrive on foot, behind the wheel and by the busload, laden with backpacks and buoyed by the hope that it will be a great year. Their parents will see them off (with hugs if they can still get away with it) and reflect on the days that have come and gone so quickly – even as they ponder what lies ahead. The kids are in high school now. And that means college is just around the corner. Will they be ready? Are we providing them with everything they need?
Preparing our Children
It’s every parent’s burden, this business of preparing our kids to face the world, and every year U.S. News & World Report tries to help parents sort it out – the school part at least – by releasing its ranking of the best high schools in Texas and across the nation.
And, according to the rankings, McKinney ISD high schools are doing quite well. For 2014, all three – McKinney Boyd High School, McKinney High School and McKinney North High School – have landed high on the list.
Photo by Frisco Photography
McKinney High School earned gold medal status and ranked 47th in Texas in the U.S. News evaluation. They were followed closely by McKinney Boyd High School, who also received gold-medal recognition at No. 53, and McKinney North High School, who earned silver-medal distinction at No. 55.
Most of the schools preceding them on the list are charter schools and magnet schools, many with enrollment numbers far below the MISD campuses. To place it in a broader perspective, of the 19,400 schools appraised across the country by U.S. News, only 3 percent earned gold-medal distinction and only 9 percent earned silver. Seventy-three percent received no medal recognition of any kind.
A closer look at the national rankings reveals that McKinney High School falls within the top 2.1 percent, McKinney Boyd is in the top 2.4 percent and McKinney North is in the top 2.58 percent of the country’s schools.
“I am extremely proud and impressed that all three of our high schools ranked as high as they did on the U.S. News & World Report ranking of the best high schools in Texas,” said McKinney ISD Superintendent Dr. J.D. Kennedy. “This places our three high schools among the top seven traditional public high schools in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area, alongside Highland Park High School, Colleyville Heritage High School, Lovejoy High School and Richardson’s J.J. Pearce High School.
“And it’s nice to see all of our high schools clustered together. That shows me that we have done a good job creating equitable programs among the three schools and that there is equity in the quality of our staff,” Kennedy said.
Photo Courtesy of MISD
When comparing high schools, the U.S. News researchers examined students’ reading and math scores compared to the state average, the performance of each school’s least advantaged students and participation rates and test scores in college-readiness Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. MISD utilizes the College Board’s AP program to help prepare students for college.
In order to win a gold or silver medal and to be nationally ranked among the 4,707 highest-scoring schools, each MISD high school campus had to qualify in the first two areas and then meet a college readiness benchmark. State rankings were then determined by pulling schools in order from the national list.
A Culture of College Readiness
In the final reckoning, all three MISD high schools proved to be above the Texas average in the three evaluated categories of College Readiness, Geometry and Reading.
It’s that first category – College Readiness – that is on the minds of a lot of people these days, perhaps none more so than Marita Cleaver, who has served as Advanced Academics Coordinator for MISD since 2009.
“The terminology of ‘college-readiness’ and ‘preparedness’ just came around maybe seven years ago, but the philosophy is something that has been established and cultivated here in McKinney for a long time,” said Cleaver.
In 1995, Cleaver joined the District as a young AP German teacher, and shortly thereafter witnessed the formation of the advanced academic culture and philosophy that is still impacting students some 20 years later.
“We assembled a group of 20 to 25 mostly veteran AP teachers at McKinney High School [the only MISD high school at the time] who were really master teachers that came together under the leadership of AP Chemistry teacher Kathy Arno – who later went on to become our first Coordinator for Advanced Academics here in McKinney. That core group of teachers made the decision to establish College Board criteria and establish the College Board philosophy at McKinney High School, and it was about a rigorous, challenging and engaging curriculum for all,” said Cleaver.
From the beginning, they instituted an agreement which AP students and teachers sign at the start of each school year that basically says, “Once, you’re in here, you’re here to stay – bottom line – because we believe in you,” said Cleaver. “It’s not a punitive agreement. The teachers are signing this too. It’s the agreement that I, as a teacher, am going to do my utmost to support you and help you be successful in my class, and that is going to help you be successful in college.”
Teachers receive College Board training before taking on any AP or Pre-AP class and participate in refresher courses every three years in their particular subject areas, unless a change to an AP exam warrants a more immediate update.
The College Board offers about 38 AP exams through which students can earn college credit, and MISD offers most of those courses, according to Cleaver. “It varies slightly from year to year, but we offer an average of about 32 AP courses. If we have a student who would like to take the AP exam for a class that we do not offer, such as AP Italian, for example, we still offer that exam, and we offer to proctor that exam to that student,” she said.
Beyond the Test
But, AP and the philosophy behind it go far beyond a test. “Ultimately it has never been about the test,” said Cleaver. “It has always been about rigor, readiness and preparation for success in college and in life, and I think that’s unique about McKinney. When I visit other school districts, that is not something that I experience when I talk to my colleagues or teachers from those districts.
Photo by Kellie Anfosso
“I think this quote sums it up well,” said Cleaver. “‘You pursue excellence and you ignore success. If you pursue excellence, success will be guaranteed.’”
A year from now, the halls of Boyd, MHS and North will be quiet once again. Custodians will gather stray papers and the flotsam left behind in the wake of the summer exodus. Freshmen will breathe a sigh of relief that they are no longer freshmen, and another group of seniors will have crossed the stage to begin an entirely new chapter in their lives. And some will ask themselves, “Am I ready for this, for college – for life?”
And the answer to that is – absolutely. Go and be excellent.
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.